Oakdale Avenue’s signature canopy losing its battle to age and poor treatment.

Standing on her front porch, Joyce Defty doesn't even have to close her eyes to dream of how South Oakdale Avenue looked 100 years ago.

"I can imagine this street with horses and buggies going down," said the 78-year-old Medford resident. "There used to be a farm over there," she said, gesturing across the street.

South Oakdale Avenue is known for stately homes built around the turn of the last century, and old trees that provide generous shade. The silver maples in front of Defty's house, which turns 100 next year, have stood for 50 to 80 years, but residents and the city say it's time to take them down.

On Oakdale, just north of Dakota Avenue, workers have marked a big red "X" on eight of the scraggly maples.

Last weekend, one of the trees was removed and eight more in the narrow strip between the sidewalk and the street will come down next week.

From West 11th Street to Stewart Avenue, the trees on Oakdale are rotting away, victims of improper pruning over the years and old age. Many of the trees are destined for removal over the next few years, which will for a time remove the canopy that defines this and other streets in Medford.

"These old trees are just shedding great big limbs," said Defty, who has lived in the house with her husband, Chester, for 43 years. "They get to be a hazard."

She points to a tree on her neighbor's yard where a limb fell off and luckily didn't hurt a passerby or motorist.

City arborist Bill Harrington said the silver maples should never have been planted on the west side of the street, where the power line runs, because they are genetically inclined to grow to 80 feet. Instead, they have fought for space with power lines over the years and never attained their normal height and fullness.

"We're talking about silver maples that have been pruned excessively over the years by the power company," he said.

The trees have buckled sidewalks as roots search for cooler soil under the concrete and for water and nutrients in lawns, Harrington said.

The silver maples and other species like them were often planted at the turn of the last century and sooner in Medford. Harrington said the trees suffer from internal rot, which weakens them and endangers the public. Occasionally a tree limb falls on a car, yard or sidewalk in Medford, he said.

When the trees beneath the power lines are removed, Harrington said the city plans to replace them with flowering plums, which don't bear fruit and won't grow tall enough to interfere with the power lines.

On the east side of the street, Harrington said the city plans to plant larger trees, such as newer varieties of maples, oaks and elms that are more tolerant of harsh urban conditions. Without power lines to compete with, the trees will eventually provide a canopy over the street.

Oakdale isn't the only street in Medford with tree problems. Harrington said he has inventoried 7,000 city-owned trees and will prepare a "state of the tree" address to the city.

In Medford, trees are typically either very old or young. In Alba Park in downtown Medford, for instance, many of the older trees have been replaced, but there are not enough middle-aged trees to maintain the canopy, said Harrington. Queen Anne Avenue has had problem trees, and American elms have needed pruning on Valley View Drive.

There is a very good reason to replace trees in Medford besides just maintaining the beauty of the city, Harrington said.

"Trees are mother nature's natural air conditioners," he said.

Since July 2007, 133 hazardous trees have been removed by the city, and 327 have been planted. In addition, 726 others have been pruned. By the end of June, Harrington expects to plant 50 more trees.

Susan Fish, who lives in an Italianate house that was built in the late 1800s, understands the need to take out the trees, but acknowledged it will detract somewhat from the look of a street that is filled with memories for its residents.

"I love the old trees, and we'll miss them," she said.

Her husband, Jeff, said that with the trees gone he won't have to worry about replacing his old sewer lines, which are often infiltrated by tree roots seeking water.

"I don't have a problem with it," he said. "You've got to take the good with the bad."

Susan Fish said the trees are part of the history of the street. She said her house was built by a preacher, but served as a bordello in the 1940s. The hardwood floors in the living room are made of bird's-eye maple.

It's gone through many changes over the years, and the couple have spent the past 10 years trying to renovate it.

His wife agreed that the trees are a nuisance.

"It takes away from the street, but it's better than them rotting away," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.