December 12, 2016
Landscape Ontario’s executive director Tony DiGiovanni recently published a letter outlining the ongoing tree shortage in the province. Distributed to the Ontario Parks Association (OPA) and the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects (OALA), the purpose of the letter was “to raise awareness about the serious tree shortages on the market,” and the fact that “many of the trees being specified by municipalities and landscape architects are either not available or not suitable for urban areas and other unnatural sites.”

The letter outlined the following reasons for the shortage:
  • It takes five to seven years to grow a tree. Growers are always guessing at what the market might look like in the future. Recessions, building booms and species preferences make the guesswork even more complex.
  • In the past, it was possible to supplement Canadian supply by purchasing from the United States. This can no longer be done for two main reasons. The recession of 2008 hit U.S. nurseries very hard. Many U.S. growers went bankrupt. Very few new trees were planted during that difficult time. In addition, the strength of the U.S. dollar is stimulating sales of Canadian trees south of the border.
  • The drought in the U.S. has affected the numbers and the quality of trees produced. The hot, dry summer of 2016 in Ontario will also affect future supply.
  • The ash borer has taken a serious toll. The situation has stimulated a strong demand for replacement trees, exacerbating the shortage.
  • The trend to specifying nature trees in unnatural locations is taking a toll. Hybrids and other introduced species, which have been selected over generations to withstand urban locations, are no longer being specified.
The letter was spurred by concerns raised by LO members that some sectors in the green professions don’t yet understand the severity of the current shortage.

Charlie Wilson, president of Bruce Wilson Landscaping in Kleinburg, Ont. called the shortage a “pitfall” of the successes in the green professions brought on by “an unprecedented run in the construction and housing industries” over the past 20 years.

“I don’t believe municipalities and landscape architecture firms are aware of the gravity of the situation that is facing all of us,” Wilson said.

Harry Worsley, president of Uxbridge Nurseries in Brooklin, Ont. agreed. “I believe we are going to [see] shortages on product for a number of years if the demand keeps up,” Worsley said. “The ash replacement program has been the biggest demand on our inventory and the question is when will that program be complete? With the low dollar, we are seeing plants heading south of the border again, and not much coming north.

The dry, hot 2016 growing season will likely contribute to the problem.

Ian Bruce, president of the Toronto-based Bruce Tree Expert Company, says that while it’s clear the profession is currently experiencing a tree shortage, it’s impossible to know how exactly severe the issue truly is.

“To my knowledge, there is no organization that is looking at what you might call the global inventory that is available for trees for cities like Toronto, that are exploding,” Bruce explained. “This is not just Toronto, it is the GTA, the urban sprawl, all of the development requiring trees and shrubs, this is municipalities requiring street trees and new subdivisions that require thousands of trees to be planted. And I don’t believe there is a central clearing house. I’m not sure if people are saying, ‘Do you know the opportunity and the potential here if we got our acts together?’”

A significant factor complicating the tree supply and demand cycle is the fact that municipalities often don’t plan and contract with growers for trees they are going to need years down the line,” Bruce said.

DiGiovanni’s letter to the OPA and OALA concluded by saying the solutions to the issue are complex, and LO “looks forward to working on these challenges by bringing together all stakeholders in a concerted effort to ensure the adequate supply of trees.”