London and Laurel County have a lot to be proud of when it comes to greenery. The hilly, winding roads are densely populated with perennial plants that range from evergreens to deciduous breeds — a variety any region would be proud of, according to experts.
“London is one of the most beautiful of Kentucky's small towns. It's a real jewel that needs to be imitated by other cities of this size,” said Dr. William “Bill” Fountain, extension professor from the University of Kentucky and certified Arborist. “(London) has done an excellent job in redeveloping its downtown. Unlike many American cities, London is alive and vibrant.”
Fountain is asked to visit Laurel County at least a few times per year to offer advice to the London Tree Board, a group of volunteers that advocate for tree preservation, placement and care. The visits provide the Tree Board with direction on steps to take in the oncoming season.
On Tuesday, Fountain visited main streets, side streets, back roads and main roads to check on the status of various trees in Laurel County.
“We're looking at the pruning that's been done and the condition of the trees to make recommendations on future work,” Fountain said. “We live in a wooded area. We look at these and say 'Well, the trees are growing, great' but when we start to put trees - native and non-native - in a downtown area, we're no longer putting them into a natural system; we're putting them in an area that serves us.”
According to Fountain, trees in urban environments - even one as small as London - must contend with such factors as salt from the roadway, limited soil volume, reflected light, heat from pavement and limited rainwater intake.
For all of its accolades, Laurel County is not an exception when it comes to placing stress upon trees. Fountain said the county's main tree problems fall under the umbrella of human error. These included poor selection - the wrong tree in the wrong spot - and tree management.
“I have to go back to what (the comic strip) Pogo said: 'I have met the enemy and he is us,'” said Fountain. “We're putting a large growing tree under a power line or an area that's confined and tight. If you live near a power line, don't plant any large trees near it. Nobody is happy when the utility company has to come out and remove a large portion of a tree.”
London Tree Board director Karen Wyan also emphasized selecting the right tree when given the opportunity to plant one.
“I know I have made choices without considering everything that could be below the ground as well as the effect it will have on a house or building,” Wyan said. “That can be an expensive and poor judgment.”
Still, Fountain maintained that London is doing a good job on selecting small and medium trees in the Main Street area as well as immediate surrounding areas. He emphasized the importance of removing trees that become problematic - as well as replacing two to three trees for every tree removed - and considering their life expectancy.
“We need to look at trees as having a planned life expectancy, just like a piece of equipment that the county or the city would buy. A personal vehicle, for example, we don't expect to last forever and ever. It would be nice if it did, but we have to plan for their replacement,” Fountain said.
Fountain also advises to consider the way trees grow in natural systems. The professor said the best way to go about doing this is by simply taking a walk in the woods.
“Trees grow with a very thin layer of (natural) mulch. You do not find in the way of leaves, twigs and branches being piled up against the trunk of a tree,” Fountain said. “Mulch will prevent you having to run a string trimmer or lawnmower anywhere near a tree. Anytime you damage a tree's trunk or roots you restrict the amount of water and nutrients from the soil that reaches the top portion of the tree.”
Another aspect of the “walk in the woods” methodology included the absense of turf: patches of grass do not exist in a heavily wooded area. Fountain advises to plant turf at the drip line of a tree, or as far as its branches extend.
“From that point all the way to the trunk, it's important to have at least two inches worth of mulch,” Fountain said. “Trees and turf are mortal enemies. The turf grasses we have are prairie type grasses. Out on a prairie, you have a lot of sun, so the grasses are very efficient in taking up water, even in dry periods. Trees are not. Turf grasses require a lot of sun and trees have a way of shading it out.”
The professor also mentioned that it is important to remember that transplanting a tree is considerably hard on a tree. He advises extra water in summer months for the following two or three years to ensure the perennial plants find their new home suitable.
“When we transplant a tree into our landscape, it's important to remember that's a very brutal process from the tree's standpoint,” Fountain said. “We have to give it a little extra care.”
Fountain also advised not digging the tree's hole too deeply, as the root system requires oxygen in the soil in order to take up mineral elements in the soil. A hard-packed soil or too deep of a hole will not allow oxygen to reach the roots.
For more information on tree care, trees in the downtown area, or general horticultural information, call Fountain at 859-257-3320 or via email at bill.fountain.uky.edu. You can also call Wyan at 606-260-3754.