Best tree for between street and sidewalk?

cardwellaveMay 16, 2011

So I am considering planting two trees in the space between my sidewalk and street. The area is somewhat narrow, only about 3 1/2 feet probably. However it is quite long, probably close to 100'.

I'd like something reasonably fast growing. My top contenders are:

-Tulip poplar

-Sugar maple



My city bans poplars, however I am pretty sure a tulip poplar truly isn't a poplar at all so it shouldn't be an issue right? It's more of a magnolia. Poplars are banned for the shallow root system apparently.

What is everyone's opinion on which tree is best?

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Dan Staley

All of those should be banned by your city (their property, after all) in a treelawn of that width. IMHO none of those trees should be planted in a treelawn of that width. You are looking at a small ornamental tree for that spot. Consult the city's street tree list and choose a small tree from there.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 9:14AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

your not in livonia on cardwell are you???

regardless .. where in MI ...

tulips pops are brittle and prone to breakage ...

sycamore are nice golf course trees ... but very messy .. shedding leaves all summer long.. plus the fuzz balls and anthracnose ...

ginko ... your great great grandchildren might live to see it achieve much size ...

maple ... well there is the whole root issue and sewer/septic issues .... and would depend how old the pipes from your house to the street sewer are... if they are sealed modern PVC ... no problem.. if they are older ceramic just butted together... no maple ...

and .. in MI.. you can probably do better with other maples than sugar ... if you insisted on a maple..


    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 9:15AM
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I agree with Dan - none of those are appropriate choices for a parking strip (aka "hell strip") planting - either too large, too wide, too many surface roots that will lift or crack paving or too many other, equally undesirable issues.

Most urban areas have restrictions on what can be planted in these parking strips - for many of the same reasons those on your list are not appropriate. Be sure to check with them before you spend money on a tree and effort on planting it that you may have to remove anyway.

For that size planting strip, I'd look at a flowering crab. These are nearly universally approved for this type of location and are attractive and immensely size-appropriate. And with no bad habits if you select for disease resistance.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 12:27PM
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Thanks for your input guys....will consult the city for a list of trees.

nd no not Livonia on Cardwell but Garden City. Although I an not on Cardwell right now.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 1:56PM
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Dan Staley

I just so happen to have the city of Boulder, Colo streetscape design regs up for something I'm doing, and they specifically list trees appropriate by treelawn width:

Small Maturing Trees
(Under 25' Mature Height)

Required Planting Strip Width
4'-5' Minimum

Spacing Between Trees
15' Minimum, 20' Recommended

And the trees in the OP's list above that are in Boulder's list are in the 'Minimum 8' Width' column.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 3:01PM
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American Elm 'Princeton' is perhaps one of the best street trees out there. American Elms used to be used all over the United States but were killed off in the early 1900s from a disease. The Princeton variety is resistant and has a perfect shape to it. They grow very fast as well, something like 5 or 6 feet a year is possible. I bought one from the Botany Shop a few months ago and it grew a foot already. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 4:35PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

minton circle.. just south of west chicago .... and harrison .... the street i grew up on.. has 50 year old sycamores... what i a nightmare ...

the next block over has norway maples...

and some other block has red norways ...

the houses.. built in the mid 50's .... have the tile drain pipes.. dad has to roto-root his sewer connection twice or 3 times a year.. due to the maple getting into the pipes ...

and those and the sycamores are causing sidewalk heaving ....


    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 5:14PM
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Dan Staley

...'Princeton' elm being another completely inappropriate for that narrow space.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 5:35PM
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So with those guidelines my whole neighborhood would have nothing but crabapples or JTL in the parking strips.

My block is a mixture of Honeylocust and American Elms. So some of the sidewalks heaved, I'll take the large trees.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 6:36PM
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Dan Staley

So some of the sidewalks heaved, I'll take the large trees.

Yes, and likely the decision is not up to the OP. The space is likely owned by the city and it is their (that is: the taxpayers') sidewalks, curbs, and infra that will heave & form a trip hazard; therefore the tree species is up to them.

It is important to have appropriate trees for the treelawn width - inadequate or no - to avoid unnecessary damage and expense. The benefits of a large tree in that spot may not outweigh the costs.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 7:05PM
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I didn't think much of anything would be appropriate to plant there but someone a few doors down has a rather decent sized maple planted. Not sure what kind it is but it has large dark colored leaves. The strip is the same width as mine so this type of tree must be appropriate...

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 11:08PM
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In addition to large trees with surface roots disturbing the paving, there are also other issues that come into play - overhead powerlines, visibility concerns, aggressive roots invading sewers and water mains, canopy spread interfering with both pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk and vehicular traffic and the trees dropping messy litter or fruit. Usually each municipality will have its own regs, some more stringent than others. That's why it makes good sense to check before you plant to make sure you are within any requirements. Some cities even have a requirement that includes application for tree selection approval and a permit to plant -- many of these planting strips are city property and they get the last word :-)

Most of the planting strips in my area are 5' minimum width and there's a listing of some 10 or so different trees, several with multiple cultivars, that the city has deemed appropriate for planting in these smaller strips. In older parts of the city there are many much larger 'street' trees that were planted years ago before there was a city arborist - the sidewalks are treacherous, the trees are routinely butchered in order to keep their size free of powerlines and some have even been "pruned" by passing vehicles, like UPS and other delivery trucks, in that there is a distinct 'cut out' of the canopy at truck height simply from the constant brushing and breaking of the branches that intrude into the street. Not pretty!

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 11:09PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i gave you locations.. to go look at the future .... its about 5 miles to go look ... i am suggesting you see a real tree.. rather than online pix ....

all the issues we are talking about are in 20.. 30 .. 50 years ...

pick a tree that you like.. and plant it..

most likely.. it will be the next owners problem ...

the red leafed maple is a norway ... in 20 years.. even grass wont grow under it ... but will you care???

us purists have a million reasons and excuses for our favorite trees .. and 99.9% of that is not really an issue for you .... plant something that will make you happy .. and move on with life ....

i might even talk to joe barson [barsons greenhouse, see link] on merriman between ford and warren.. and see what he recommends ....

or randazzos over by westland mall ... though i would not rely on personal service there ....


Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 10:09AM
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mustard_seeds(4 -Onalaska Wisconsin)

I am wondering what is the purpose of having trees in this area and not just grass? Can you plant some trees closer to your home to help block your view of the street and give shade, etc. It would be much easier to mow the strip without going around a tree, and your tree choices are vastly increased. I am not trying to sound negative, I just really want to know the reason to place them here and not elsewhere so that folks might chime in on other ideas. Rachel

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 11:20AM
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I have a 3.5 ft strip and planted a paperbark maple. It was approved by the city and done through a local organization. The bark is great during the winter. I'm not sure it would be hardy for your climate though. I'm attaching a link to their database which might give you some ideas to look up.

As for why to plant in the strip? My front yard isn't that deep, why not take full advantage of the space between the road and the house? I already gave away 2-3 ft of space for the sidewalk.

It only takes three swipes with the lawn mower to get the whole parking strip so going around the tree doesn't really increase the mowing time.

Here is a link that might be useful: Friends of Trees list of street trees

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 5:33PM
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mustard_seeds(4 -Onalaska Wisconsin)

Tanowicki that does make sense if you have a small yard. I myself have too much yard/lawn to deal with so I forget other have limited space LOL

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 6:14PM
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Dan Staley

GG has a good point:

In addition to large trees with surface roots disturbing the paving, there are also other issues that come into play - overhead powerlines,

Some places put narrow treelawns under power lines on purpose to discourage planting of medium-large trees. Of course this decreases your repaving cycle, but you can't have everything - where would you put it?


    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 7:47PM
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I emailed the city and all they could say is when a side street that has a divided "boulevard" style roadway was redone, they used pear trees. They recommend trees with a downward root system. Not all that helpful.

And there are no overhead wires out front. I only have them in back where I have 8 mature trees that are all at full height all probably 100 years old or more. Lol.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 4:43AM
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Dan Staley

Yes, briefly perusing their website makes one very sad. It is clear they collect taxes to pay for engineers and PW folks and don't give a hoot about greenery. There are many costs to ignorance and apathy, not all manifest themselves right away.

Don't buy into their comical 'pear' mistake. Surely Ken can point you to some trees in your area.


    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 10:08AM
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Redbud is a small tree used down here for small spaces that I believe is still rated for your area. We have a number of other small trees/large bushes suitable down here, but they most probably will not survive that far north. Perhaps some large berry bushes suitable for your zone should be considered.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 11:22AM
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IRuehl(8b-9a, Savannah GA)

amur maple maybe?

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 11:27AM
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Dan Staley

The key to small trees in narrow treelawns: vase-shaped or spreading habit means you'll get frequent branch breakage from the mail truck, UPS truck, street sweeper, garbage truck, recycling truck, ice-cream truck, brother-in-law's 4WD dualie camper with the lift kit and fall camo package from Bass Pro Shops, etc. One must be prepared for compromised aesthetics with small trees that are wider than tall.


    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 12:48PM
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I measured the strip today. What looked like 3 and a half feet is actually five and a half feet. There are actually quite a few maples, norways among others in the strip on my street. There are lots of redbuds around here, so those along with the tulip tree and sugar maple are at the top of my list. Maybe I should go to a nursery and talk to some people.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 3:38PM
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Dan Staley

Norways are suboptimal trees.

Here are the graphics you need to understand risk of damage:


    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 3:56PM
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I would agree with what Ken said and plant what tree makes you happy. Five and a half feet isn't a ton of room, but have you ever been to Chicago? I've seen Elms and Silver Maples with trunks five feet wide in a four foot space between the sidewalk and the curb. Not ideal for sure, but it does work.

I would also give a thumbs up to a Princeton Elm. I planted one four years ago at my lakehouse in Michigan (Stugis to be exact), and it has grown from 8 feet, to over 20 feet so far in four growing seasons. It grows up more than out, and will one day vase out over the street and your front yard.


    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 4:14PM
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The city of Cleveland plants Crab Apples in narrow tree lawns such as the one described by the OP. Another appropriate tree for that tree lawn may be a redbud.

None of the larger trees would do well there. There are many examples of large trees (silver maple, ash, etc.) planted in narrow tree lawns and invariably the sidewalk is heaved up and causes significant cost and aggravation for the homeowner and public.

Dan, at least around here, sidewalks are usually homeowner's responsibility unless you live in an HOA.

Being in the city of Cleveland no one really cares what you put in your tree lawn, I could have put a tulip tree on the corner of my house that has a 3-4' tree lawn...but did not. I put amur maples there, and I put a Northern Red Oak on my 8' tree lawn.

Just be wise about it and you will be fine.

Just remember the tree will always a dispute with the tree and sidewalks/sewers, the tree will always win.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 6:31PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I was just in New Orleans and they have massive trees in these 3' circles surrounded by concrete. I'd don't even know how they survive!

As someone mentioned Chicago is a good example of how the 'right' tree can do well in these areas without effecting the walk ways.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 8:57PM
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Strange that silver maples are surrounded by pavement in Chicago with little heaving. I have a HUGE silver maple in my backyard and there are roots everywhere, especially fibrous ones in the grass all around it (very shallow). Although it is only 2 or 3 feet off my neighbors driveway and she has no issues.

Of sycamores, sugar maples, and tulip trees, which is going to be the most downrooting? And which would have the shallowest roots?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 1:27AM
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Those that have grown Princeton Elms, when they are younger do they tend to be vase shaped or does that happen more later? I like their shape and look and nostalgia but my fear is they will grow wider than taller earlier on and get ran into by traffic or pedestrians.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 2:04AM
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@ cardwellave,
The vase shape happens when they are older but the canopy is rather narrow when they are younger. There are a bunch young American Elm 'Princeton' trees planted in front of the white house check out those. If you do a google image search they should come up.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 12:40PM
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lpinkmountain(5b/6a border PA)

I live in an urban neighborhood and there are large norway maples, sycamores, tulip trees, red maples and silver maples planted in tiny little spots in front of the houses around here. They manage somehow. It's a pleasant neighborhood. Sure, there's an occasional problem with a tree, but that's life, it doesn't ruin many of my days. There's no such thing as a perfect tree.

I've long thought about planting a tree in a similar spot in front of my house. I was told by a long time resident that the block used to have norway maples all along it but they eventually died. But they must have been here about 80 years by the looks of the one last stump that is left. And yes, it took up the whole plot and then some. Whatever tree you plant is not going to become much of a problem most likely in your lifetime. If no power lines, then I'd add pin oak and honey locust to the list, they are often planted as street trees around here.

But honestly, I think your biggest problem is going to come when the trees branch out over the street and sidewalk and get in the way of people parking on the street or getting from car to sidewalk. You can prune a lot of trees so they don't have branches overhanging the street or sidewalk, it's done all the time to create allees and for espalier. However, if I was ever to plant a tree I would stick to one bred to grow in a shape called "fastigiate" or "columnar," which is basically like a Q-tip instead of a lollipop or umbrella. The classic example of that is a bradford pear, a tree I hate mostly because it is invasive and smells nasty. A good example is a birch tree. There are fastigate varieties of lots of different trees, I have seen norway maples, ginkgos, apple trees, european hornbeam and red maples planted around here bred for that shape. I'm sure there may be others. But you won't find them in ye olde big box nursery. I think a lot of them are grown for the professional landscape trade, but I don't know for sure. I just know I have rarely seen them in a nursery.

Here is a link that might be useful: Columnar or fastigiate trees

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 10:14PM
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