More trees on way – but not Bradford pears

Another one bites the dust: Grounds-keeper Chad Hyland of the Public Works Department’s Urban Forestry Division grinds away the stump of a streetscape Bradford pear tree on Ashland Avenue destroyed by a late August storm. 

COVINGTON, Ky. – The City of Covington plans to replace “missing” trees in sidewalk areas along a couple of Latonia streets in October, and rest assured it won’t be planting the much-maligned Bradford pear. 

The Bradford – which still makes up 30 percent of Covington’s streetscape trees – was once the darling of city planners across the nation. Fast-growing, symmetrical, disease-resistant and flowering, the Bradford was touted as a quick way to bring shade and exotic flora to downtown streetscapes. 

But then the saplings grew up, and like unruly teen-agers, they began to make trouble. 

The flowers have a putrid smell. The trees multiply ferociously, crowding out native species. The trees are unfriendly to insects, even helpful ones. And worst of all, the structure of the Bradford pear is conducive to splitting. 

When heavy winds blow, the trees sometimes fall – bringing down wires and potentially damaging property. 

“In my experience, the only thing a Bradford pear won’t survive is itself,” said Crystal Courtney, the City’s Urban Forester. “It thrives in cruddy soil, and it’s resistant to heat, drought and road salt – but it’s structurally weak.” 

Over the past few years, Covington has steadily been planting new trees where fallen Bradford pears have left gaps. On Oct. 13, the City will be planting 70 more trees on Ashland and Rosina avenues with the help of volunteers. 

In the next couple of weeks, members of the City’s Forestry Division and the Latonia Community Council will be going door to door to distribute information about the event and seek commitments from residents to keep the trees watered and mulched. 

They also want to hear from residents who do not want trees – since unwanted trees are often vandalized. 

According to an inventory completed last year, Latonia has the most vacant planting sites in the City, so that’s where the Forestry Division will be concentrating its efforts over the next few years, Courtney said. 

Why streetscape trees? 

“Trees are the only infrastructure that appreciate in value over time, and the economic benefits they provide compound as the trees get bigger,” Courtney said. “They clean the air of pollution. They absorb rain and lessen the storm water going into our combined sewer systems, and they make property values go up by providing both beauty and shade.” 

National studies show all sorts of lesser-known spin-off benefits as well: In “greener” neighborhoods, asthma rates for children are lower, obesity rates are lower, people are less likely to call in sick to work, noise levels are lower, fewer traffic accidents occur, shaded pavement lasts longer, “aggressive” crime rates are lower, residents like where they’re living more, and temperatures are lower. 

“The 2014 urban heat island maps of Covington show the highest temperatures lie along the Madison Avenue, Decoursey Avenue and Winston Avenue corridors, where there are few trees,” Courtney said. “Over the past few years, we have been working diligently to combat this by organizing large-scale plantings on or near these thoroughfares.” 

The trees planted in Latonia are funded through federal Community Block Development Grants and will be made up of “our trusty go-to’s,” she said. 

  • Where there are no power lines, species will include yellowwood, black gum, State Street Maple, and a hybrid elm. 
  • Under power lines, they will plant serviceberry, redbud, Parrotia, ornamental cherry, and Wireless Zelkova, which is a new cultivar.  

All street trees have to be available locally, non-invasive and tough – able to overcome poor soil and drought conditions and tolerate road salt. They should also be resistant to the spread of fungal or disease issues. And above all, they shouldn’t grow too tall or wide for the spot.  

Being smarter about what species to plant and where to plant them thus saves taxpayers money and keeps our streets looking attractive, Courtney said. 

Covington was still planting Bradford pears up until about 10 years ago – “but we’ve since adopted the ‘right tree/right place’ philosophy,” she said. “Trees are a valuable asset, and we want to keep that asset healthy and increasing in value over the long term.” 

After all, there’s a reason that the top three headlines produced by a Google search of “Bradford Pear” read: “The Curse of the Bradford Pear,” “I Just Hate Bradford Pears,” and “Why Bradford Pears Are The Worst Tree Ever.”