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Street Trees and Resilient Understory Plantings

Aug 29, 2023 | Horticulture

Street Trees and Resilient Understory Plantings

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The Street – Tree system was created in New York City by the Parks Department in the 1870s, and according to the Million Trees NYC project, we share the city streets with over 592,000 trees and counting. While these trees work diligently to sequester 1.35 million tons of carbon and 890 million gallons of stormwater a year, their understories and surrounding wells are typically bare. In a horticulture setting, an understory includes plant life that grows beneath the forest canopy but above the forest floor

The bareness of the soil in the tree wells of our city is caused by many factors, including soil compaction, soils with high pH levels & calcium contents, and, most notably, waste from our four-legged friends. 

Dog urine contains a mix of nitrogen and salt that make for a lethal cocktail for most plants, though not all. Over the past couple of years, and with help and guidance from North Creek Nurseries, Madison Square Park has been trialing native plants that are tolerant to dog urine. This year, our test plot could be found at the corner of 24th Street and 5th Avenue, and we invited parkgoers to let their dogs raise a leg in the name of science. 

This season, we are testing the following native plants, and hope to provide useful feedback to North Creek and gardeners like you:

  • Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
  • Tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
  • False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)
  • St. John’s Wort (Hypericum calycinum)
  • Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

As always, we ask that you please still pick up after your pooch.

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Abigail Deville: Light of Freedom
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