Volunteers and local workers make a difference as drought threatens Joplin’s newly planted trees

Every year, natural disasters strike communities often resulting in a dramatic loss of trees that subsequently weakens the community’s environmental sustainability, economy, and sense of place.

Photo Credit: NPR.org

The Arbor Day Foundation’s Disaster Recovery Campaign is a structured response to the destruction caused by disasters in communities across the nation.   By collaborating and organizing with key state and local partners, the Arbor Day Foundation “facilitates the distribution of trees to citizens in communities in need.”

After the severe damage caused by the EF5 tornado that tore through Joplin in May 2011, a variety of organizations banded together to plant nearly 7,000 new trees in the devastated city.

Through a joint initiative with the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center, the Arbor Day Foundation developed the Joplin Tree Recovery Campaign.  This campaign distributed 12,000 trees to residents in four Joplin-area locations.

Foundation officials have described the Joplin Tree Recovery Campaign as an effort to restore Joplin’s precious and beautiful tree canopy to what it was before the May tornado.

An NPR news article details that, “sturdy varieties such as oak, sycamore and redbud — trees that can withstand strong winds when they’re taller” have been planted throughout Joplin.

In spite of all the progress made through the combined efforts of local and national supporters, Joplin’s young, newly planted trees are now struggling to survive a different environmental threat: drought.

Tom Meyer, manager of Carson Nurseries in Springfield, explains that young “trees are especially vulnerable to the drought.”

According to Meyer:

Freshly planted trees are real reliant on human beings taking care of them.  They need to water right at the root base, and there’s very little root structure beyond what was just planted. They can’t bring in residual water from farther out.

Fortunately, students on mission trips, volunteers and other workers from around the Joplin area have formed “bucket brigades,” toting heavy, five gallon buckets of water in the searing heat to around 562 young trees planted in Joplin parks.

Photo Credit: Joplin Globe

Thanks to these efforts and the perseverance and dedication to the restoration of Joplin, Ric Mayer, Joplin’s tree coordinator, estimates that presently, less than three percent of the newly planted trees will not survive.

The battle for the trees’ survival is not yet over.  Mayer believes that if the volunteers keep at it, there is hope for saving most of the trees in Joplin parks, but volunteers tend to be in short supply through August and September.

Any volunteers who want to water the trees in Joplin’s parks are welcome.  Homeowners are advised to not neglect their newly planted trees as well.

If you would like to donate to the Arbor Day Foundation’s Joplin Tree Recovery Campaign and help Joplin in its efforts to restore and maintain its tree canopy, please click here.

The following “before and after” photos portray the destruction caused by the May 2011 EF5 tornado that went through Joplin.

Photo Credit: Daily Mail

Heat and drought taking a toll on trees in Nebraska, other states

Heat and drought have made this summer one of the toughest in memory for urban trees, and the evidence is especially visible here in Nebraska, home of the original Arbor Day.

According to the Nebraska Forest Service, long dry-spells can be especially damaging, even for mature trees that have survived harsh conditions in the past.

The Grand Island Independent reported on the problem and what Nebraskans can do to alleviate the strain earlier this week. Of course, these same principles apply to struggling trees throughout the country.

Woody plants across the state are also suffering from continued heat and drought. Nebraskans should pay particular attention to trees and shrubs and thoroughly water them if they begin to show signs of leaf wilt, discoloration or drying, especially at leaf edges, said Amy Seiler of the Nebraska Forest Service.

“A dry winter, minimal spring rains, record high temperatures and low summer precipitation have put extreme stress on trees this summer,” Seiler said

The uptick is temperature also makes certain trees more susceptible to infestation and disease, both as a result of the tree’s weakened state and the ability of more pests to survive warmer winters. The emerald ash borer, one of the worst pests confronting urban trees, is already getting closer to the Nebraska border.

Fortunately, with the right attention and watering, many endangered trees can be saved.

The Foundation has a number of resources on tree planting and care. They can be accessed here.

Better care can help urban trees survive drought, Texas report says

Earlier this year, a report from the Texas Forest Service found that 5.6 million urban trees in the state had been lost as a result of drought. A new companion report from the state’s AgriLife Extension presents a more complicated picture, arguing that many of the dead trees suffered from pre-existing stress.

On the surface, the new report would seem to be discouraging. Drought is, after all, an easy culprit. But in explaining the other factors that led to massive tree loss, the report also provides a guidepost for what to do differently next time.

Both the AgriLife Extension and Forest Service are part of the Texas A&M University system.

According to the report by Dr. Eric Taylor, a forestry specialist, most of the trees that died were already strained due to factors like overcrowding, growing on the wrong side, age, problems with the soil or use of inappropriate herbicides.

That means that a more proactive approach to tending urban trees during the year can help them weather and often survive the drought.

As Taylor put it: “Our best defense against drought is to promote a tree’s health and vigor through proper care and management.”

Taylor is no way discounts the importance of water to tree’s life and health – but he does want people know that trees can be better prepared for times when water is scarce.

In addition to proper pruning and maintenance of existing trees, many communities are also making sure to diversify the species they plant. Introducing new species has been critical in the fight against the emerald ash borer and other pests that can devastate urban forests.

Read more about the report here.

USA Today column stresses solutions on urban trees and power outages

A column published in yesterday’s USA Today offers important insight in the ongoing discussion about urban trees, power and natural disasters.

Writer Laura Vanderkam reached out to the Foundation two weeks ago concerning solutions to the danger of urban trees falling on power lines during heavy storms. At that time, millions of households in the Washington, DC, region remained without power, weathering 100-degree days and uncertainty about when service would be restored.

Trees are an easy villain when they fall during a storm, but as Vanderkam points out, they also help utilities keep the lights on by lowering peak demand through the shading affect during particularly hot days.

Vanderkam told me she was writing a solutions-oriented column, and that’s precisely what she did. Citing the Arbor Day Foundation’s “Right Tree in the Right Place” principle, she notes that utilities are already seeing positive results from proactive pruning and a smart strategy for where to plant in the first place. According to her reporting:

After the hurricanes of 2004, the Orlando Utilities Commission in Florida did something similar, working with the city to plant tall trees away from lines and shorter trees under them. Result?

“Our reliability statistics have continued to climb,” says Wayne Zimmerman, manager of construction and maintenance. Costs are stable. “And we still have a beautiful tree canopy.”

That’s good for cash-strapped cities — and for anyone amazed, after the recent storm, how people lived through summers before AC.

That’s the kind of solution we can get behind, and the Foundation will continue to urge utilities to innovate and improve best practices in tree care. I wrote about the Foundation’s perspective in greater detail in a blog post last Tuesday.

Trees an unfair culprit for power outages, but more can be done to prepare

Power outages and blackouts tied to late June thunderstorms in the Washington, DC, region have finally come to an end.

The raging storms – coupled with sweltering 100+ degree heat – left more than 2.5 million people without power. A handful of casualties were reported, with property damage spanning Maryland to West Virginia.

While the response of area utility providers has dominated the headlines, some have also cited the larger trees that knocked over power grids, blocked streets, and in some cases, damaged cars and homes. People have asked: are trees to blame for the loss of power? Could more have been done to protect people in their homes?

Trees are an unfair culprit. But there is a need for improvement in the pruning, management and care of urban trees, both in the DC region and throughout the country.

Due diligence is required to prepare urban trees for natural disasters, while recognizing that some damage cannot be anticipated. It is also critical to acknowledge the enormous benefits of trees to cities and towns.

One of those key benefits is the shading of homes, an area of increasing importance to utility providers like Entergy, which serves 2.8 million customers in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. The shade from mature, well-placed trees reduces household energy use by as much as 30 percent, allowing companies like Entergy to meet peak demand during hot summer months. The shading effect saves customers on their monthly bills too.

Entergy is among the 145 utility providers currently recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Line USA in honor of its commitment to proper tree planting, pruning and care. The program provides a baseline standard for providers, but as with the Foundation’s other programs, we encourage participants to exceed the core requirements and continually seek best practices in their service areas.

More and more utilities are seeing proper tree pruning and care as both good business and common sense. Healthy urban trees help with storm water management and reduce strain on infrastructure. They also absorb the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. One utility executive described investment in trees to us as a risk management tool, akin to homeowners buying fire insurance for their house. This is especially pertinent as climate change leads to more volatile weather patterns,

It is because of these benefits that the Foundation advocates for preserving mature trees in conjunction with new development. These trees often yield the greatest benefits, in addition to their aesthetic and quality-of-life contributions. But they also pose risks. Many of the trees that fell during last month’s storm were older and strained by urban environments. We encourage municipalities and utilities to take extra care to maintain these trees and adopt established pruning cycles. And, when a tree becomes unsafe, it ought to be removed and replaced with native species that fit with the surrounding community.

While some disasters cannot be prevented, trees can and should be part of the solution rather than the problem. And they will be if they continue to receive the care and attention they deserve.

Forest Service study shows major U.S. cities losing tree cover, but active tree planting can stem the tide

Earlier this month, Texas was reported to have lost 5.6 million urban trees due to last summer’s drought. Now, the U.S. Forest Service reports that the tree canopy in many other cities are similarly under stress.

In 17 of the 20 cities analyzed, tree cover declined, while impervious cover such as pavement and concrete increased in 16 of the 20. The cities experiencing the highest percentage of lost tree cover were Houston, Albuquerque and New Orleans. One city, Syracuse, New York, experienced a slight increase in existing tree cover, but that was due largely to the spread of the invasive European buckthorn.

Overall, existing tree cover in U.S. cities is declining by about 0.9 percent annually, and it comes at a cost. According to Forest Service estimates, urban trees provide a benefit worth three times the cost of tree care. Communities do not want to lose these benefits, which include reduced heating and cooling costs and improved storm water management, on top of the less quantifiable boost to quality of life.

There is some good news, however. The Forest Service study also showed that active tree planting and maintenance efforts are already making a difference. Said Forest researcher  David Nowak: “Tree cover loss would be higher if not for the tree planting efforts cities have undertaken in the past several years.”

To reverse the trend, continued tree planting and more active and comprehensive efforts to sustain urban tree canopies will be required.

Saving urban trees will take a lot of work, but thousands of communities – particularly the 3,462 currently designed as a Tree City USA – have already shown they are up to the task.

Photo credit: TreesAtlanta, via the U.S. Forest Service.

Summer drought costs Texas 5.6 million urban trees

A new report from the Texas Forest Service found that cities in the Lone Star State lost 5.6 million trees due to drought last year. The trees, comprising 10 percent of Texas’ urban forest, had become “too thirsty to live,” as the Austin American-Statesman put it.

The drought’s impact on trees has put Texas officials in a tough spot. The same report detailing the lost trees also pointed to $280 million in annual environmental and economic benefit from trees, and that’s in addition to the qualitative benefits. It’s hard to put a numeric value on the thousands of missing pine trees from Houston Memorial Park, for instance, but their loss is undoubtedly felt.

In urban areas especially, trees play a critical role in shading buildings and streets, reducing the risk of flooding and keeping pollution down.

Removing trees is expensive, though well worth the cost to avoid risking a fall on a car, a power line or a home. Getting rid of dead or dying trees will cost the state of Texas $560 million dollars, the report says.

Texas’ large metropolitan areas, such as Houston, Dallas and Austin (above), currently have a total of 60 million trees.

Last summer is on record as one of the longest and driest in Texas history, and the trend looks likely to continue. Broader changes in climate cannot be solved at the local level alone, but there is a lot that cities can do to mitigate the damage.

In Austin, for instance, the Texas live oak has been more drought-resistant because its natural reserves are a good fit for the area. City Arborist Michael Embesi told the American-Statesman that Austin had already shifted to planting less water-dependent trees in preparation for last summer. Planting the right species at the right time definitely helps.

Cities are strapped for resources, making watering trees a challenge, but the right infrastructure could tap dirty water – from car washes, local reservoirs or excess rain that would otherwise end up down the storm drain – during the summer. Additional watering will assist trees on the margins of survival in making it through the dry season.

It’s also beneficial to plan for replacing older trees.

Solutions like these emerge from a sustained commitment to managing urban trees. Texas already has 72 Tree City USAs, including most of its largest cities, so it is clear that both motivation and resources exist to respond to these challenges, along with the passion of concerned professionals and the communities they serve.

You can find out more about the Texas Forest Service’s study here.

Photo courtesy of Fine Austin Living.

 

Difference between Full Sun, Partial Sun, and Full Shade

One of the keys to Tree Care is planting the right tree in the right place.  The right tree in the right place can fall into many categories ranging from not planting tall trees under power lines to planting a tree that needs full shade in a full shade area.

I learned this lesson the hard way last summer.  I planted a Japanese Red Maple Tree in my wild flower garden. 

Read more…

The Secret to Healthy, Fast-Growing Trees

The Secret to Healthy, Fast-Growing Trees

The care you give your trees in the early stages of their growth will affect their shape, strength and life span. In their first few seasons, young trees expend a lot of energy to establish their roots in the soil. They are very susceptible to heat and drought so by following a few easy good –practice tree care tips you can provide your trees with the best environment for their growth and ensure they look their best.

Read more…

Older Tree Care

Question: I have a few older trees and I am concerned that they may not be safe.  What should I do?

Answer: Winter is a good time for safety inspections of older trees.  Trees with decay or other obvious problems and those in potentially dangerous locations should be inspected by a professional arborist.  You can find arborists in your area who are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture and clicking on  Find an Arborist.

If you do you own visual inspection start at the top or bottom of the tree and work carefully to the other end.

Look for signs of trouble such as:

Cavities

Broken Branches

Branch Stubs

Limbs that Cross and Rub

Gouges or Unnaturally Loose or Peeling Bark

Bare branches at this time of year make it easier to spot problems.  Winter is also an excellent time to contact a tree care company to do any corrective pruning that will make your tree safer.  Most companies are less busy at this time of year, and in colder climates the frozen soil will help prevent soil compaction by workers or vehicles.  Then, too, insects and diseases are less likely to be attracted to branch cuts during dormancy.