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Beach Triangle Residents Association

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The Beach Triangle Residents Association, Toronto, Ontario

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Free Trees for the Asking

By Keith Schengili-Roberts

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When the first houses in the Triangle were being built about a century ago, Norway Maple trees were planted in front of the new homes. They were imported from Scandinavia to what was then the Town of Norway on Kingston Road at Woodbine to replace the native species which had been logged for farmland and lumber. Over time the trees matured, and not so long ago they producing a beautiful canopy of green which provided shade during the hot summer months. In the last few years no one living in the Triangle could have failed to notice the large limbs which have fallen off many of these trees, or the whole trees which have had to be taken down because they were rotten at the core and bound to collapse. Fact is our Norway Maples are all nearing the end of their lives, and within the next five years most of those which still remain will be gone.

Free trees are available from the city for planting on the city-owned land, which in many cases extended from your front door to the street (though notably this rule does not apply to the properties running along Kingston and Woodbine). The Urban Forestry Department is committed to planting trees in the city, and has been given the mandate of doubling the existing tree coverage in Toronto. Even though the city may already own the tree which may be outside the front of your house, they will not generally plant trees without an invitation to do so. Once they have consent from the home owner, they will plant a tree of your choice for you, all provided freely.

The first thing is to look at the list of trees offered by Toronto's Urban Forestry department. This is a list of 34 trees, though it is worth knowing that of these only perhaps a dozen or so are suited to the relatively sandy soil of the Beach Triangle area. Some of the trees listed are native to Southern Ontario (such as the Sugar Maple and White Oak), others which are native to elsewhere in Canada (such as Ironwood or Black Locust) and the rest are either trees native to Europe (like English Oak) or hybrids (like the Freeman Maple). Several of the non-native trees are those which come from climatic regions located well south but which are expected to fare well in the long term due to expected changes in the local climate due to the effects of global warming. Urban Forestry will not plant trees which will cause problems for those with allergies (such as cedars), similarly they do not plant conifers, because they are slow growing, making them more prone to being trampled or destroyed. Ash trees are not available as they are susceptible to the Emerald Ash Borer beetle.

A place with an existing mature tree is not the place to plant a new tree, as the existing tree will take up most of the light, water and soil nutrients which the younger tree needs to thrive. It is recommended that new trees be planted at least one house away (if not two) from an existing mature tree so that the new tree has a chance. There are two planting seasons: the Spring and the Fall.

Need a Tree for Your Back Yard?

While the city can't help you plant a tree on private property -- such as your back yard -- there are other agencies which can. LEAF is a non-profit group which can help provide you with the tree you need. Unlike the trees provided free by the city, the trees provided by LEAF are not free, but they are subsidized. Costs average between $150 - $200 per tree, a fee which includes 30 minutes of consultation with a certified arbourist and a full planting service. They will plant a 5-8 ft. tall native tree where you want. For those who donít want to commit to a full tree, LEAF also provides native shrubs as well.

There are a lot of benefits to having a treed neighbourhood. In addition to the obvious ones such as providing shade in the summer they also filter dust from the air, and sequester carbon as they take in CO2. Trees make the air cleaner, and also drink up a lot of storm water which would otherwise end up in our overloaded storm sewer systems. Mature trees contribute to reducing nearby home energy costs by sheltering homes from winter winds which lowers heating costs, and increasing shade which reduces summer cooling costs.

For more information, see the following web sites:

The BTRA board is looking to develop a Triangle Tree Planting initiative. If you're interesting in a free tree on your property, please e-mail us at