UF Management – Themes

Simplify Urban Forest Management: Use Area Themes

Mike Davison, Revised October 12, 2020

Community vision is important for managing an urban forest.

In Serrano Park, our green areas have included a declining tree canopy, especially the taller trees and the street trees. The Landscape Committee has several projects in the works, including plans to rejuvenate these declining canopies and to come up with a long-term plan to sustain them. Some of these projects are reaching a critical point where we need a community vision to set our goals, before we can proceed further. We do not have a good way to get a community consensus yet and are open to suggestions.

Establishing theme areas lets us breakup the project into smaller, more manageable areas.

Here in Serrano Park, we have a very diverse mixture of landscapes, ranging from street trees, to eucalyptus forested embankments, to large lawn areas. We have flower beds and entrance landscapes, and even an area of wild growth. Each of the landscape types, needs to be managed differently. In an effort to simplify the problem, the Landscape Committee is proposing to break the problem up into area themes. Each theme will have its own management plan. This is still a daunting project, but we can start with designing and approving each theme separately, and eventually end up with the full urban forest management plan.

The Landscape Committee can only suggest and recommend a course of action. The HOA Board, representing the interests of the homeowners, approves the plans and directs the committees to carry out these directives. Since board members and committee members constantly change, it is especially important that plans are put in place that can survive the changes in members. Even approving plans to make plans helps to keep us moving forward through these member changes. This may be the main reason a long-term plan for landscape management has never been created in the history of this HOA. To this end, we have started presenting issues well supported with good data and proposals for how to proceed in addressing these issues and move toward a plan.

The failing street trees is our first “Theme” project that was started this way. We established, with arborist support, that the street trees are indeed declining and need to be replaced. We then created a zero-budget project to create a replacement plan that the Board approved. This establishes a project directive for Landscape Committee that would require another board vote to change. This project is to come up with a viable tree replacement plan with budget proposals, as well as the plan to maintain the existing trees until they can be replaced. Each stage of this plan need separate HOA Board approval.

These theme plans need to meet the following requirements:

  1. Establish a long-term vision for the theme that reflects the will of the homeowners.
  2. Be compatible with the soil and environment for that area.
  3. Have water and leaf decomposition compatibility between the species pallet.
  4. Include a mortality plan for sustainability.
  5. Have an irrigation plan.
  6. Include budget planning.
  7. Include budget reserves planning.
  8. Includes all aspects of management throughout the life cycle of the theme components.
  9. Timeline for implementation.
  10. An arborist review to assess the viability of the plan.

Community participation is especially important in establishing the long-term vision. This establishes the goals for the theme plan. Once the goals are set, all the requirements to achieve this can be worked out by the Landscape Committee members with assistance from professionals. We have started on a few theme projects that are in early stages. None have the long-term vision established.

Grants and rebates are available to help convert high water usage grass areas into reduced water landscape. We want to use these to help afford new theme plantings.

Our landscape maintenance vendor is experienced at replacing grass with low water use landscape at very little cost to the HOA. Here, they are presenting a rendering of what that would look like in a corner of Abeto park.

Current Theme Project Outlines:

  1. Street Trees:
    1. We are putting together a selection of street trees to be considered. This tree list will be based on recommended street trees for this area and soil that can be grown in the parkway width we have available.
    2. We can select a few compatible species or a single species to plant.
    3. We want to create a non-grass area between the trees for healthier trees and to be eligible for water saving rebates.
    4. The theme vision should include the vision of the embankments next to the street trees.
  2. Abeto Park Carrotwood Trees: (Very early concept stages)
    1. Plan for future growth of the carrotwood trees to prevent crowding.
      1. Most economical – remove some of the trees
      2. Alternate plan but somewhat prone to mistakes – start corrective pruning to promote height and limit diameter.
    2. Plan to remove grass around the trees and create a better watering zone for the trees.
      1. Rebates possible
      2. Add root-friendly paths and benches for enjoying the shade.
    3. Expand the canopy with more trees.
    4. Mortality plan
  3. Simulated Forests: (Several areas)
    1. Create a mixed pallet of compatible large trees
    2. Plant lots of seedlings to someday take over for the current maturing trees
    3. Keep managing the younger trees and occasionally plant more seedlings.
These carrotwood trees near pool 2, are beloved for the shade they provide. But, they were planted too close together and are getting too congested causing issues as some trees are beginning to strangle others. Corrective pruning to train these to grow tall and narrow may save the trees if we act soon. Here also, we are trying to grow grass in the shade of these trees and over-watering the trees to keep the grass green. This creates a very shallow root structure that is easily damaged with foot travel.
As we view these same trees from the street, we can now see that some changes to this theme to improve curb-appeal would be nice. The crowded grove with nothing nearby is not attractive. Removing grass and expanding the forest would make a great difference.