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On the surface, it seems like fruit trees are more useful to the inhabitants of a city than other kinds of trees that don't bear fruits that can be harvested.

Why do cities generally still decide against planting fruit trees and rather prefer other trees?

closed as off-topic by user4514, user 1, Alexei, Martin Tournoij, Noah Feb 19 '17 at 22:39

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  • 5
    This is more of a gardening question that a political one. Urban trees should have low maintenance, few plagues, be able to live in a small patch of soil, afford that solar light may be blocked by buildings, have roots that do not cause damage, have good aesthetics, do not have offensive aromas... there is not much left to pick. Also I was told once (not sure how truthful the story was) than once some town did plant orange trees, and had to do grafts with a variety that produced sour oranges so people would not damage the trees trying to pick the fruits. – SJuan76 Feb 18 '17 at 21:13
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs to the Gardening and Landscaping stack (this must be the first time we send a question there) – SJuan76 Feb 18 '17 at 21:17
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    Just a guess... but fruit trees would bring a host of problems: who would eat all those fruits? We don't want them to rot in the street. It would probably end up being stray animals, and thats always a problem for cities. Not to mention fruit trees probably bring their own set of insects/diseases, so it could mess with ecological balance. – David Grinberg Feb 18 '17 at 22:40
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    Fruit trees, to be productive, need a lot of maintenance...something that isn't always viable budget/staff-wise for urban foresters. That said...there are places doing this. Seattle has: npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/02/29/147668557/… – user1530 Feb 19 '17 at 0:55
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    This question is a combination of "What is the tragedy of the commons?" and "Why do most zoning laws treat agriculture as a separate land-use type?" Both questions are political. – Jasper Feb 19 '17 at 2:30
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Mostly, because while it's doable (especially in small cities), it's hard to do.

Todmorden in UK has done something similar, in having population grow produce that's free for picking - even the Bobbies (police) have a vegetable bed by the station.

However, this is fraught with difficulties, both horticultural[1] AND political:

  1. Costs.

    Non-bearing year costs include pesticides and the labor for pruning, training, mowing, and pest control. Remember, after the fifth year, production costs will increase while yields and income are also increasing. As the trees get larger, they will require more pest control chemicals to achieve good coverage, and more pruning, and it will be more time-consuming to harvest the fruit. Costs of $4,000 to $5,000 per acre can be expected

    Another resource (Oregon State) estimated ~$1000/tree for 4 years, though they include things that scale such as a ladder

  2. Planting and growing fruit trees is difficult. From UoM's "Before You Start an Apple Orchard" page:

    Apple production requires a lot of labor. A permanent labor supply for spraying, pruning, and general maintenance must be available. Additional seasonal labor will also be needed for harvesting and packing the fruit. Although every farm system is unique, 10 acres could be considered a minimum size for a commercial apple-growing enterprise. A 10-acre operation is large enough to use equipment efficiently and implement a continuous orchard renovation program, yet small enough that one person can take care of most of the work. Larger orchards can make more efficient use of machinery and equipment, but more hired labor, and thus more management skill, will be required.

  3. Fruit trees require pollinators.

    Fruits are the result of a flower being pollinated. That same UoM guide mentions needing to hire bee hives etc...

  4. Fruits - as they ripen - fall down and create a dirty, yucky, garbage mess.

    Ever been to a non-tended apple tree late in harvest season? The ground is covered with fallen, rotten, slimy and disgusting fruit.

    Absent heavy and expensive constant cleanup, this creates a health and sanitation hazard. AND stinks.

  5. The fruit attract animals.

    On the more benigh angle, that's simply a nuisance due to said animals eating the friut before your citizens can.

    On the less benigh, you have assorted dangers associated with animals being attracted. Deer causing accidents. Birds carrying viruses. etc...

  6. The fruit attracts people, and in a large city, not necessarily the kind of people you want.

    You wanted your fruit trees as a noble effort to feed, say, low-income mothers with kids?

    Guess what, in the best case scenario, it will be picked by the most enterprising hustlers who have spare time - and if you're lucky, they will wait till the fruit is ripe. Or, they will pick unripe fruit just to beat the competition.

    In the worst case scenario, you'd have local criminals organizing access to the trees, and profiting from selling the fruit.

    A commenter wisely noted that mid-worse case scenario is homeless squatting around the trees.

    Overall, in general, the situation is succeptible to a sociological/political/economic problem known as "Tragedy of the commons" - which is somewhat solvable in a small community like Todmorden but much more of an issue in a large urban center.

  7. Fruits may not necessarily be very healthy, growing in a smog of a big city.

[1] - Much of this is not just theoretical knowledge - before I became a political wonk, I spent many years of my youth working on a small family farm

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    Another group for point six is the homeless - they'll probably set up camps under or near the trees, eat the fruit with a very vague idea of what would be ripe or not and throw up wherever when they get it wrong, and generally make the area unpleasant for everyone else. – IllusiveBrian Feb 19 '17 at 15:41
  • Most of the list seems plausible, but not always convincing. It's not obvious why the mid-worse scenario (homeless squatting) is necessarily that bad. Assuming that a city has homeless people, and they're going to squat somewhere, there are worse places to squat than near trees, and there are worse things to eat. Presumably the health toll of junk food diets for the homeless would eventually cost the city money in higher medical bills (emergency room, et al). – agc Feb 20 '17 at 7:40
  • @IllusiveBrian, perhaps it's not so much the homeless that "make" an area unpleasant for everyone else, as did whatever political forces and failures that rendered any class of citizens homeless to begin with. – agc Feb 20 '17 at 7:47
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Seattle has laws mandating the planting and/or retention of trees when buildings are built. Its regulations strongly encourage the retention of trees that are very large, or large and unusual in Seattle. (There are exceptions that allow the removal of "hazardous" trees, and let individual homeowners remove a few "non-exceptional" trees per year.) Its regulations also list recommended trees to plant along streets, and list trees that are specifically not recommended for planting along streets. Some of the criteria for inclusion on each list are:

Reasons for recommendation

  • Trees that provide useful shade and evapotranspiration.
  • Attractive leaves.
  • Attractive bark.
  • Attractive flowers.
  • Disease resistance.
  • Fall color.

Reasons for not recommending

  • Trees that drop fruit or nuts on streets and sidewalks cause messes and stains.
  • Trees that are likely to get aphid infestations severe enough that they drip.
  • Trees that release large amounts of pollen that many people are allergic to.
  • Trees that require irrigation during month-long dry spells, even after they mature.
  • Trees that cannot handle frosts, and temperatures that sometimes go down to 15°F (-9°C).
  • Trees that are likely to grow large enough to have branches within ten feet of power lines.
  • Trees that are likely to have large shallow roots that cause sidewalks to heave.
  • Trees that have aggressive roots that damage water lines or sewer lines.
  • Trees that are likely to grow large enough to interfere with building roofs and/or foundations.
  • "Invasive" species that quickly spread seedlings.
  • Brittle limbs that can fall under ice or snow load.
  • Thorns.
  • Conifers are "encouraged on appropriate private property sites", but are discouraged where their lower limbs "can cause visibility/safety problems" for drivers and pedestrians.

Seattle assumes that trees that are on private property belong to the owners of the private property, who are responsible for maintaining the trees, and are entitled to the crops that the trees produce. Trees that are on city property belong to the city. Many trees are in "planter strips" between the streets and the sidewalks. Unless you look up the property lines for a particular neighborhood, it is not obvious whether the "planter strips" are city property, or belong to the adjacent lots.

In practice, maintenance of these trees is split between the city-owned power company and the adjacent property owners. The adjacent property owners are theoretically responsible for keeping an eight-foot tall clear volume along sidewalks, and a fourteen-foot tall clear volume along streets. (In practice, most property owners make a good faith effort to allow passage along the streets and sidewalks. Others do not. The city does follow up with adjacent property owners when there are specific complaints.) Every few years, the city-owned power company severely prunes street trees to keep their branches at least ten feet from the nearest power lines.

In California, most fruit orchards, nut orchards, and vineyards are torn out and replanted on a 20-25 year cycle. This practice maximizes crop yields, by repeatedly having plants that are 5-15 years old. (It also helps keep crops in sync with long-term demand trends.) This practice is not allowed by Seattle's mandates to retain trees that have six-inch diameter trunks.

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