A serious shortage of trees has been threatening for some time as building in Florida has continued to boom. It was made worse by periods of heavy rain that destroyed some fields and made others unfit to dig.
This is an astonishing season of sales for the landscape industry in the southeastern United States, the area that I now know best. Advertising of plants in Plant Finder, our associated print magazine that deals with availability, has dropped because a number of nurseries are fully booked for the rest of this year’s production, and installers are having fearful problems locating material for jobs that may have been designed and bid many months before the shortage developed. I am not referring to the fact that specifications by some designers are wildly unrealistic in matching tree canopy size with caliper; that has always been a problem. No, this is a genuine situation in which finding regular, good quality trees means scouring a wide area, and then often having to ask for changes in the specifications of the job.
Shortage of trees is likely to be the most difficult part of the problem to solve. Some municipal landscaping codes have minimum size requirements for any tree to be installed, and are also now beginning to apply quality standards. Florida has taken the lead nationally in establishing a new set of grades and standards for landscape material. The tree standards, in particular, are aimed at installing the safest possible tree, with the best chance of survival, in any job that chooses to specify one of the better Florida grades for the material. This in itself has meant that not all material grown in the state is still suitable for these jobs.
What could be done to ease this situation? One possible answer is to relax the minimum size requirements which many municipalities have in their landscaping codes. The Broward County chapter of the Florida Nursery and Growers Association is suggesting a moratorium on the tree minimum height requirements for a period of two or three years. Trees would still have to meet all criteria laid down in the grades and standards manual with respect to single leaders and other aspects of a quality branch framework, as well as the requirements for root vigor, but could be installed at, say, 8 or 10 feet overall instead of 10 or12 feet. In addition to easing the current shortage this has the added advantage that smaller trees are easier to move and have a better long-term establishment and survival than larger material.
Is there a hope that common sense could prevail here? Landscape inspectors cannot accept smaller sizes without official action to amend the code requirements. Can we explain to city officials who may have very little knowledge of how plants grow or of the realities of the landscape industry, that this is not purely a self-serving request, but one that will keep projects on time, and will have healthier plantings in the long term. It is essential that we insist on the strict quality and safety standards, all that is needed is the change in size requirements. If the nurseries and the installers can explain this to the inspectors, and if together the united group could convince the municipal authorities, the whole situation would become much easier. And, who knows, once everyone has cooperated on this, it might even be the beginning of better communication throughout the landscape industry. Dream on!
This article “The Best of Times” was reprinted from the March edition of Hort Digest