Volume 16, Issue 26 - June 26 - July 2, 2008

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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Frank Gouin

Trees Fit for Power Lines

Power trees are the answer for power line problems

In the early 1980s, a tremendous downburst caused extensive tree damage. Many homes in Bethesda lost power for more than a week during the heat of summer.

Earlier, I had contacted the surrounding public utilities for financial support to establish a small arboretum and power-tree breeding and training program. I hoped to identify and develop trees that could be grown under public utilities as street trees. After the downburst, I reignited my efforts, but it was evident they preferred trimming branches and repairing broken power lines.

There are many short growing trees that can be planted under public utilities: Korean or Kousa dogwood, fringe tree, Chinese scholar tree, golden rain tree, flowering crab apple trees, flowering cherries, serviceberry, crape myrtle, some viburnums, Japanese tree lilac, Japanese maple, armur maple, sweet bay magnolia, star magnolia and saucer magnolia.

For use as street trees, these species would have to be trained as single-stem with the first limb no closer to the ground than seven feet. In most cases, flowering trees are generally grown with lower branches within three feet of the ground. Making them usable as street trees under power lines would require developing a new training program to force these species to produce straight stems to a height of at least seven feet before branching begins.

Producing single-stem crape myrtle, serviceberry and viburnums would require special growing practices and growth regulators to inhibit suckers. Such growth inhibitors already exist but need more experiments to determine the proper concentrations for maximum effectiveness for each species.

Then there is the potential for breeding dwarf Power Trees. Within most genera there exist large trees and small trees. With today’s technology and knowledge, it is possible to perform inter-species crosses such as crossing an armur maple — which grows to a maximum height of about 20 feet — with a red maple, which grows up to 80 feet. Selections could be made from the seedling of such crosses and observed for habit of growth, rate of growth and mature height.

Even in seedling populations found in the wild, there are runt seedlings, but they seldom survive because they cannot compete. If such runts were given proper chances for survival, however, they could become tomorrow’s Power Tree.

Since public utilities already have the right-of-way for establishing and maintaining their services, they should have the power to dictate the type of trees that can be grown under their utility lines. By mandating that only certain species of trees be grown under public utilities, power outages caused by falling trees and branches would be significantly reduced. Maintenance and repair costs would fall, too.

In past years, BG&E has been accused of butchering trees along its power lines. Former Anne Arundel County executive Janet Owens joined these protests. Such disputes could have been prevented by public utilities providing citizens and governments with a list of trees that can be planted under power lines.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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