choosing a city tree

(Question)

We are requesting a tree to be planted by the city and are trying to choose from their list. We’ve also been told that they will consider requests for trees not on the list if suitable to the site.

We have a narrow three story brick semi with a small front lot in downtown Toronto. No boulevard so the tree would be on our lawn, adjacent to the sidewalk and within about 3-4 feet of the street.

We have the following criteria although we know we may not be able to meet all of them with the same tree.

1. (relatively) fast growing

2. will grow high enough to be visible outside our 2nd floor bedroom

3. won’t completely block light from ground floor window (we like trees with lower branches that we would see from window as long as it’s not too dense)

4. Not too weak (i.e., limbs not likely to fall on house)

5. Attractive in first years of growth (i.e., not too spindly)

6. Hardy in city conditions (pollution, road salt etc.) with no major pest problems

7. As an added bonus (not essential).. flowers and/or fall colour or some other ornamental feature

Trees we have considered: serviceberry, lilac tree, linden

If you are able to indicate where in Toronto we can see the trees you suggest that would be helpful (aboretum, mount pleasant cemetary, etc.)

(Answer)

Planting a tree, whatever size, is a good investment for now and the future. Trees provide cooling to the home, oxygen for clean air, beauty and habitat for our birds. Choice of tree, as you have outlined, can be difficult, especially for the smaller lots typical in old city of Toronto.

You’ve probably looked at the list the City of Toronto has provided, but in case you did not:

https://www.toronto.ca/data/parks/pdf/trees/street-tree-brochure.pdf

Most of the trees on that list grow fairly large, and may not be suitable for a small lot.  Yellowwood (Cladastris kentukea) is a North American native tree, and has a fairly open,vase-shaped canopy, compound leaves that turn yellow in the fall, and the white flowers in spring will come at maturity. It grows to about 12m, but it does spread to 10m, when mature. It is a lovely specimen tree, and suitable for a small lot.

Looking at your choices at the bottom of your list, if you are thinking of Ivory Silk Lilac, (Syringa reticulata) a tree that reaches about 8m and a spread of 5m, is fairly compact, and sports very fragrant, creamy white flowers in spring. The blue green foliage is attractive, and it is disease resistant. It does not have much of a presence in the fall. It is a good choice for a small city lot.

There are several linden, although the only native is the tall Basswood (Tilia americana). According to the Connon Nursery catalogue (2009), there  are cultivars bred for shape, including “Boulevard” and “Redmond” both of which get to a height of 20m and a spread of 10m, but the former is a narrow  pyramid, while the latter is almost heart shaped. Little Leaf Linden  (Tilia cordata) is a great shade tree, gets to 16m and a spread of 8m. They have yellow fragrant flowers in spring. They are disease free, and can withstand adverse city conditions. It is a good choice, but may be too large for your lot at maturity.

However, your third choice, Serviceberry, also known as Saskatoonberry, or Juneberry (Amelanchier sp.) are usually shrubs, but there are several that grow to tree height. All are native to Canada, and are cold hardy. Amelanchier canadensis is a small tree, about 8m, with a spread of 3m. The shape is oval and the branching has an airy feel, so does not provide dense shade. Underplanting is easy with these trees. All bloom in spring, with whispy, white flowers that become reddish to black fruit, attractive to birds. The fall colour is orange-red – like a sunset. It is a lovely choice for a four season tree, and quite suitable for a small lot.

To see these trees, and many others, I would recommend a jaunt to the Toronto Botanical Gardens. The advantage there, is that most plants, shrubs and trees are labelled, so you know what you are looking at.

Good luck with your choice, whichever you choose will enhance your small garden.