How to Care for our Urban Trees and the Park Strip
by Sydney Boogaard, SLCgreen intern
It’s a beautiful summer’s day as you walk through the neighborhood with your favorite furry friend at your side. The shade from the trees helps cool the summer heat as you pad along… sound like a lovely afternoon? We think so. And we have our vibrant urban forest to say thank you to.
Our urban forest comprises nearly 85,000 public trees, including 63,000 street trees and 22,000 trees that reside in our city’s parks and open spaces. These indispensable trees are cared for and maintained by Salt Lake City’s Urban Forestry Division.
Why are Urban Forests Important?
A 2010 census reported that nearly eighty-one percent of Americans now live in urban centers. This means urban forests are becoming more important than ever. They provide essential benefits to our populations and wildlife. Urban trees contribute to cleaning our air, filtering our water, controlling storm water, conserving energy, and providing shade for us and our local animal life. Not to mention, they are aesthetically pleasing, strengthen social structures, and add significant economic value to our communities.
The majority of these trees are located in park strips. So, you may ask, what is the park strip, why is it there, and what do you do with it?
What is a Park Strip?
The park strip is the ground area situated between the back of the curb and the sidewalk or– if there is no sidewalk– the back of the curb and the right of way line.
The city’s park strips play a vital role in contributing to Salt Lake City’s urban forest. Additionally, these spaces provide access for repairs and maintenance to public utilities.
Salt Lake City’s Urban Forestry Division is responsible for any major maintenance and service to all city trees within the park strip.
They offer various services to help maintain the urban forest:
- Online planting and tree care guidance for residents.
- Treatment for insect and disease issues that affect trees located on public property.
- Tree pruning and crown training for street and park trees (to keep them safe and healthy).
- Tree and stump removal (for trees that have died or become unstable).
- Street tree planting (if you have a suitable planting spot on your park strip).
- Front yard tree planting (for properties adjacent to narrow park strips)
- Permitting for private companies to plant, prune, or remove a City tree (in certain circumstances).
The guidelines for our park strip and street trees are essential to the health of our urban forest:
- There should be one tree for each 30 feet of street frontage.
- No tree shall be planted without a permit from the Urban Forestry Division.
- Tree species and location will be approved by the Urban Forester.
- You may prune, remove or alter your street tree if you obtain a permit from the Urban Forestry Office for service provided by a certified arborist.
To request service for a city tree or to ask questions, contact the Urban Forestry office at (801) 972-7818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to Water a New Park Strip Tree
After Salt Lake City plants a tree in your park strip, how do you take care of it? Here are some important guidelines on watering:
- The watering bags are intended to supplement other watering techniques (they are not effective as the sole source of water for trees).
- The watering bags should be filled twice a week. In addition, please provide supplemental watering with an automatic irrigation system, or hose.
- Begin your tree watering schedule in late March or early April, and continue until the tree goes dormant in autumn.
- Watering bags should be removed after a tree’s first growing season to prevent damage to the tree’s trunk.
- After removing the watering bag, trees will still need a deep watering once a week to stay healthy (twice a week when it is really hot out).
What Should I do With My Park Strip?
Beyond serving as a home to city trees, the park strip allows access to the city’s public utilities. This is is why it’s crucial for residents to follow regulations for helping the City maintain access.
These regulations include the following (see PDF and the code here for a complete list):
- Trash, other debris, and noxious weeds should be removed from the park strip.
- Sufficient water should be supplied for groundcover, shrubs, plants, and trees.
- Thirty-three percent or more of the park strip should be covered with vegetation. (This reduces the urban heat island effect and helps with stormwater runoff).
- There should be no concrete in a park strip with existing street trees.
- Asphalt is prohibited in the park strip.
- Thorn-bearing plants are prohibited in the park strip.
- Retaining walls, fences, or steps are prohibited in the park strip.
- Plants should not be above 22 inches in height, though specimen plants can be up to 36 inches in height as long as they do not block sightlines.
- Larger rocks should be buried at least one third the depth of the rock.
For more information on the park strip, visit Salt Lake City’s Building Services website.
If You Xeriscape . . .
Xeriscaping is a great way to save water while keeping the park strip looking attractive. However, remember that 33% of the park strip should be planted with vegetation. The vegetation and any trees should continue to be watered to keep them healthy.
Not providing adequate water to park strip trees can kill them.
Help us protect our urban forest and be sure to give your tree one deep irrigation per week during the growing season and two during the hottest parts of the year.
If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to our arborists for personalized care tips for your park strip tree!
Salt Lake City’s urban forest is crucial for the health and welfare of our citizens and environment.
We hope these instructions will assist you in developing and conserving your park strip and helping us all enjoy the benefits of Salt Lake City’s trees!
What about planter boxes? My neighbor has some that are over a foot high and occupy about 75% of the strip.
Thanks for the question. Planter boxes are okay in the park strip. The full ordinance details are here. http://www.slcdocs.com/building/b-park-strip.pdf Feel free to reach out to Civil Enforcement with any concerns or additional questions at 801-535-6000.
Great article, Sydney, but I wish it included strategies for providing sufficient water to mature park strip trees, especially when you replace the park strip vegetation with non-irrigated alternatives (like some folks on our block just did). I don’t think people know or think to provide water to the trees, or know how much and how often they need to water. We now have a tree at 2100 E Roosevelt that is completely surrounded by rocks, and I watched it go in with no irrigation lines evident at all. Guess you’ll be taking that one out soon 😦
That’s a great point to emphasize, thanks! Our Urban Forestry team urges caution that, when residents xeriscape their park strips, they must continue to provide water to trees– even mature ones. It is part of our ordinance that “Sufficient water shall be provided for vegetative ground cover, annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees to keep them in a healthy condition.” We’ll include some of your suggested updates 🙂
I have some old trees with trucks at least 4′ in diameter. They have been cut and topped by Urban Forestry to avoid the power lines. I have be told the City/Urban Forestry would help to replace them. Is that true?
Hi John– I’m not sure! You should contact Urban Forestry to ask. Their number is 801- 972-7818 or email at email@example.com
So, uh, I planted two trees in my park strip without asking. (Didn’t know I needed to). Now what?
🙂 It happens. If you have concerns contact Urban Forestry. In general, they don’t want trees that drop a lot of debris (like fruit) or that are too big for the area and will damage roadways and sidewalks. FYI, here are the trees that are suggested for the park strip: https://www.slc.gov/parks/urban-forestry/urban-forestry-suggested-trees/
When are the planting months for trees?
Early fall is best, but spring also works.
Hi.I have a tree in the park strip it looks very dry. Looks like is going to die.I’m wandering if you can checked out and if it is necessary to removed it can you guys do it or I need to get someone else to do it?
Thanks for reaching out! Please give your tree regular waterings– once per week. If you think it needs to be inspected or removed, please contact the City’s Urban Forestry Division at (801) 972-7818 or firstname.lastname@example.org They’ll help you out!
I just moved into a house on Kensington and I would like to request the city program that plants trees in the park strip. I tried to add my name in the spring, but it was the wrong season. I was told the city would send me a form in the fall with types of trees to choose from. I am now uncertain whom I contacted for that service. Can you help?
That’s great Brandi! Please contact our Urban Forestry Division and they’ll be able to help you out: https://www.slc.gov/parks/urban-forestry/
Yes, we absolutely need more urban Trees . in our concrete jungles! Keep planting!
The tree in our strip drops big branches every year and just dropped a 20′ one that broke my back windshield and dented my car. Can you come remove what’s left of this nuisance tree and replace it with a new one?
Thanks for reaching out and we’re sorry to hear about the storm and branches. Please reach out directly to the Urban Forestry Division for more information. https://www.slc.gov/parks/service-requests/tree-service-requests/