Downtown tree replacement underway

City of Asheville Arborist Mark Foster walks up to a tree on Battery Park Avenue and effortlessly flecks away a piece of loose, spongy bark revealing exposed wood instead of a normal, colorful inner bark. The London plane sycamore is dying, he says, along with the others on that stretch of sidewalk. For the past few seasons, Public Works staff have trimmed the canopies of the row of trees further and further back to remove dead branches, and this spring, he doesn’t expect many of them to leaf out at all. “These are in bad shape.” he says. “This is a mismatch between a tree and the environment it needs.”

Like many of the trees in downtown Asheville, the sycamores were planted some 20 years ago and, alongside others in the Downtown Business District, will be replaced in the coming weeks.

Foster is aware of the exposure that removing trees earns in Asheville, and as an arborist, is sympathetic to the desire for healthy, attractive trees in the city. That’s why these sycamores, along with the others being removed, will be replaced with young, stronger and easier to maintain specimens like fruitless sweet gum and Cleveland select pear trees.

Probably the highest-profile of the projects will be the replacement of large Bradford pear trees in front of the Haywood Park Hotel. Older Bradford pear trees, Foster says, are highly susceptible to broken limbs during storms, and heavier limbs become a hazard if they extend over sidewalks and traffic. And, he says, the trees grow wide canopies that tend to impact buildings like the Haywood Park Hotel, the owners of which agree with Foster’s assessment. “People planted Bradford pears because they are attractive when they bloom and they are urban tolerant.” Foster says. “It wasn’t until they began falling apart 15 or 20 years later that people realized it wasn’t such a good idea.”

The introduction of Cleveland select pears and fruitless sweet gum on the site, which have a more upright branch form, will offer the ability to maintain the new canopy and keep it off of surrounding buildings, Foster says.

Already, crews can be seen removing red and sugar maples on College Street behind the Biltmore building. In those cases, the trees are upending and buckling the sidewalk to the point where the pedestrian walkway needs to be replaced. Unfortunately, Foster says, the trees were not planted low enough relative to the walkway to avoid cracking it, making it necessary to repair the sidewalk to make it safe and meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. “It was getting so distorted that it was becoming a concern,” Foster says.

The new trees, a mix of red maple and American holly, will be planted lower and with a root barrier in place to prevent their encroachment and degradation of the sidewalks. Trees on Patton Avenue at the BB&T building will also be replaced to make necessary sidewalk repairs.

And, he says, the younger trees will allow an opportunity for developmental pruning that was not done in the case of many downtown trees. This kind of pruning helps develop good form and branch structure and reduces the amount of maintenance they need later in life.

Click here to see more about Asheville’s street trees.