October 27, 2020

Care of urban trees in arid regions

tree

Landscaper and arborist Mark Laurence discusses some of the problems faced by the arboriculture industry in modern Middle Eastern cities.

Trees are essential in all cities and especially so in arid climates. Cities like Dubai have grown fast and the landscape industry has emerged to create the human spaces in between buildings. It is true to say that not all maintenance skills have developed as quickly and tree care is a case in point. This is not surprising; even in the UK with its established arboriculture industry, I see trees that are badly pruned. In modern Middle Eastern cities where many of the urban trees are newly introduced exotics, it’s no wonder these trees are given incorrect care.

I have carried out a number of surveys of trees and reports in the UAE and given training to maintenance staff in correct pruning methods. This is, however, a mere scratch on the surface of what is needed. Training schools and permanent, well-motivated staff are essential in both the maintenance crews and the nurseries that supply the stock. Most faults I see in trees should have been corrected in the nursery with a pair of secateurs.

So what is actually needed?

Firstly, an understanding of the structure and growth habits of trees. Secondly, maintenance crews need knowledge of how, when and why to carry out corrective pruning. This is a difficult one given the temporary nature of much of the labour force; if you invest in training, you need to keep your skilled workers. Thirdly, there needs to be the right equipment available. This is basic but there is not a huge range of good arboricultural equipment in the UAE. Lastly, there needs to be the processes in place which schedule this work. Without awareness of the need and the appropriate budgets, none of the above will happen.

With an urbanising world population, demand for new landscapes in Dubai and other cities will continue to increase. Trees make a city bearable, providing substantially cooler streets, adding moisture through evapotranspiration, trapping dust particulates and removing NOx (nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide). They provide our biophilic connection and turn a nice place into a truly special one. In the UAE, the native ghaf tree (Prosopis cineraria) is revered. Beautiful trees like Delonix regia are imported and sit well within an urban framework, with their beautiful red or yellow flowers. Both suffer from overwatering through irrigation and manifest symptoms of this in different ways. People need to know how to deal with the eclectic mix of trees available.

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