Urban Landscaping Tips from the Pros True Grit

You've got to hand it to city plants. They squeeze themselves into the tightest of spaces, and each day they battle pollution and smog, get stepped on (or worse, thanks to the city's dog owners) more times than they'd like to count. In short, they're a lot like us—and like us, they need a certain amount of care and tending in order to thrive in the concrete jungle.

Well-thought out and properly maintained plantings and landscaping clearly improve the appearance (and therefore the value) of a building. With some planning and a little advice from the experts, you can get the most out of your landscaping choices and avoid costly mistakes.

The Threats

Plants grow from the bottom up, obviously, and suffer most when their roots are damaged—something that can happen easily in an urban environment. Justin Rawson has been the managing arborist at Almstead Tree & Shrub Care Company in New York City for the past four years, and says that the biggest threats to city greenery happen at the root.

"The absorption of water and nutrients through the roots is essential to the biological functions that occur through photosynthesis up in the canopy," he says. "Damage, such as severe compaction, root cutting for new sidewalks, and chemical damage from salting or street cleaners reduces the capability of root masses to efficiently absorb nutrients and pump them to the top of the plant."

And that's just the man-made damage. "After that," Rawson adds, "drought stress and extreme climate swings such as warm winters, lack of rain, or cold snaps late in the season can all add up and kill off a plant or tree that's stressed already."

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