Old City Green wants your dog to stop peeing on trees

Old City Green spends $5,000 a year supplying its neighborhood with plastic bags and disposal stations for dog waste. Five years after beginning its Scoop the Poop initiative, Old City Green has moved on to yet another neighborhood menace—dog urine.

“Trees are dying in the same locations again and again. There’s an obvious problem with dog urine and these trees,” Joe Schaivo of Old City Green and PHS Tree Tenders said.

PHS Tree Tenders plants and maintains trees throughout Philadelphia and Old City Green is a neighborhood program for bettering its green spaces. Schaivo said that the dying trees are located in the mixed-use Old City neighborhood – a high-traffic area with both residential living spaces and commercial businesses.

A new campaign by Old City Green (designed in partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society) hopes to teach dog owners about the deadly impact of dog urine on trees
A new campaign by Old City Green (designed in partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society) hopes to teach dog owners about the deadly impact of dog urine on trees

“It’s a tree pit, not a pee pit”

The most damage happens to trees outside of these residential living spaces. Schaivo said that people living in apartment buildings and condominiums often take their dogs outside to relieve themselves on the nearby trees. He described those tree pits as smelling like “truck stop urinals” because of how frequently they’re used by these and passing dogs.

For Schaivo, that unpleasant urine smell marks a doomed tree. To educate dog owners about the damaging impact of dog urine on trees, Old City Green worked with PHS to design tree cones for high-priority areas in the neighborhood. The cones are hard to ignore, as they wrap around the entire base of the tree and protect its watering bag.

Dipper demonstrating how easy it is to not pee on a tree
Dipper demonstrating how easy it is to not pee on a tree

When dogs pee in tree pits, their urine soaks into the ground to cause damage. Because the cones can’t protect the trees in their entirety, Schaivo said that their goal is to instead change dog owners’ attitudes through education. The cones highlight three major points.

Dog urine:

  1. Lowers soil PH to toxic levels and causes tree dehydration
  2. Damages feeder roots affecting water and nutrient uptake
  3. Damages bark leaving the tree susceptible to disease and insects

Schaivo said that the issue with soil PH is so dire that the trees are experiencing “reverse osmosis.” That is, the soil has become so dry that it actively sucks water from the trees’ roots. Trees are supposed to obtain moisture from the soil they live in.

Changing attitudes

“We have to start a conversation about the problem to change the culture,” Schaivo said. The success of the Scoop the Poop initiative gives him hope that people’s attitudes can change.

“When we talk to people, it becomes clear that most of them understand the idea of giving these trees a chance to establish themselves,” Schaivo said. “But right now, we’re replacing the same trees over and over.”

In short, there’s a difference between allowing your dog to urinate on the huge oak trees at the park and the newly planted junior trees along the sidewalk.

2 Comments on Old City Green wants your dog to stop peeing on trees

    • The cones they use for Old City trees are actually pretty expensive, and Joe Schiavo told me that they’re working on a version of the cones/graphics for independent tree-caretakers like landscapers and such. For more info on getting a cone for yourself, you can send him an email: schiavo.joe@gmail.com

      Thanks for asking!

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