“I guess we are going to ‘lollipop trees’ rather than these big oaks…” Jock mused. We were walking the dogs trying to get an idea of the extent of Hurricane Florence damage to the wasteland formerly known as our neighborhood. “You know what I mean by lollipop tress? The kind with something pretty at the top that lies down in a storm and then pops back up?”
“I know you are Canadian and therefore prejudiced in favor of maples,” I responded. “Don’t think I don’t see what your real objective is, Mr. Brandis.”
“I’m just saying maples aren’t going to take out the house,” he noted.
“And I’m just saying it doesn’t get cold enough here for syrup. Nor, frankly, does anyone come to vacation in the South because they want to take pictures of Canadian sugar maples. They come because they want to see old-growth oak trees with Spanish moss.”
“I think the key words are ‘old growth,’ my dear. That’s not really something you can replant.”
And we were off on a conversation about the deforestation of the city—specifically, UNCW following hurricanes Bertha and Fran.
Couples who have been together for a very long time have a handful of conversations they repeat periodically. This is one of ours. Probably, it cycles back so frequently because the hurricanes changed both our lives profoundly and noticeably. The combined damage to our area’s urban forest following the double feature of Bertha and Fran sprouted Tree Fest. It launched in an effort to get people in New Hanover County to replant trees on their properties. Over the years I have brought home several trees from Tree Fest. But this year, more than ever, looking around at the piles and piles of tree trunks lining the streets, awaiting pick up, Tree Fest feels like a moment of grace.
So on January 18 and 19, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, (or until all the trees have found homes), up to five tree saplings per household will be available to the public in the J.C. Penney section of Independence Mall. They suggest a $3 donation, which is $1 a tree, so round it up to $5 if you are taking five, $10 if taking 10, etc. (and show your momma she raised you right).
“During the first few years there were several financial partners, but now we operate on the donations received from the previous year,” Karl Busick of the Tree Fest committee told encore last week. The trees are cultivated at the NC Forrest Nursery in Goldsboro, and this year available trees include: bald cypress, black walnut, buttonbush, chestnut oak, crape myrtle, longleaf pine, persimmon, pignut hickory, red maple, river birch, silky dogwood, swamp chestnut oak, white ash, and white oak. Plus, two grasses will also be available: Indian grass and little bluestem.
So, yes, Jock is probably going to attempt to adopt five maple trees.
Trees provide beauty and shade, in addition to an increase in property value. But, please, do not think the function they serve is purely aesthetic. As Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor Evan Folds notes, “Trees are critical to ecosystems because they breathe moisture into the atmosphere at a high rate, about 250 to 400 gallons a day, and they also intercept a large amount of rain before it hits the ground. This allows water to seep into the water table and not run off. . . . This is especially important, given the almost total urbanization of our county.”
Elissa Riley, program coordinator for New Hanover County Soil and Water, agrees. “Tree canopy is important for a number of reasons: It lowers temperatures saving electricity on cooling; and it’s the end of a large water recycling and purifying system, reducing flooding potential.”
In addition she points to the habitat for animals and birds. It is not just a short–term impact as Riley observes. “Tree canopy is going to reduce the trees ability to resist insects and disease until the trees have replaced their food stores. . . . Reduction in the number of trees affects the water quality, [as] mature trees move an enormous amount of water from the ground back into the atmosphere, so areas that are wet will become wetter given an average rainfall year.”
Considering how wet it was in 2018 and even going into 2019, that is a serious and legitimate concern.
It is difficult to track and follow up with all the trees that get adopted out to new homes from this program. We just have to have hope the overlap in the Venn Diagram of good intensions and follow-through is bigger than expected. Both Busick and Riley offer a variety of good pointers.
“Bare root seedlings need lots of water without being drowned,” Riley tells. “First step is to get them in the ground as soon as possible, preferably in a location that will not cause problems for the tree or location when the tree matures.”
Frequent waterings are key—about an inch of rain per week until the root system recovers from transplanting, which is about three to five months.
“Don’t mow them down with the lawn mower,” Busick adds.
In addition Riley points out Tree Fest provides information on how large the trees will be at maturity, as well as planting instructions. The size issue is important. Riley advocates site selection as key success.
“Plant the right tree in the right place,” she offers. “I would like to educate people to not only look, from side to side while planting trees, but also to look up. Trees planted too close to power lines or buildings can cause problems.”
Hence the “Progress Energy Topiaries” we see with vast alterations to the trees by the power company, as to accommodate the powerlines. “Many people are wanting large trees but on smaller building lots, prevalent in New Hanover County, a large tree might not fit in the landscape.”
I share Riley’s vision: Tree Fest can help people learn that “growing trees is not difficult, and with just a little bit of care, anyone can improve their environment very cheaply—and maybe planting a few almost-free trees will get them excited to try some different trees.”
A forest garden is more my speed than any other kind of gardening. A chance to adopt a tree is a very special opportunity. Folks who can’t make it to Tree Fest can always choose to care for trees in their neighborhood. Around the stretch of Market Street, where I grew up, we have had multiple young oaks planted in the last few years to replace the ones that have been removed. A little fertilizer and a bucket of water is a great way to make them feel welcomed and loved in their new home.
Adopting a tree is a relationship that will go on for years and the benefits far outweigh the labor. Whatever the motivation that takes readers to Tree Fest—aesthetics, a desire for a lower A/C bill, fruit or nuts to eat, ornithology, or simply adding to the value of real estate—there is a tree out there waiting to help.