City trees survive the odds; obstacles exist


When Barbara Rosenfeld moved into her house on South St. Asaph Street 16 years ago, the tree out front was just a sapling. Although the tree is technically city property, she waters it and cleans the trash left around it, like it was her own, even mulching it one time, after the city left a bag of mulch at the base of the tree.

All the trees in the city make the city streets look attractive. Its an asset to the city to have these trees around and an asset to us, Rosenfeld said, as she watered the tree during the drought this fall.

There are an estimated 1,700 trees growing between the sidewalk and the curb throughout the city, and thousands in the city parks, said John Noelle, the citys arborist. Every year, the city invests $1 million to their trees, covering Noelles salary, an assistant arborist, tree maintenance, and support equipment. The citys making a definite investment in the care of the trees, said Noelle. The trees add ambiance to the city, and environmental benefits as well, he added, providing shade, absorbing heat and producing oxygen through photosynthesis.

The citys trees face many obstacles though, growing in a square plot just inches from cars spewing toxic exhaust. Some trees are more tolerant than others. According to Noelle, water is the number one limiting factor for any trees success, and he encourages residents to water the trees in times of drought.

Put the hose at the base of tree and let it trickle slowly for one or two hours, he said. The city hasnt put out specific instructions how residents could use voluntary measures to help the trees. We need to do a better job of that, Noelle said.

At the roots
Planting bulbs around the trees is alright, and will not usually disturb the roots, as long as there is not massive digging or roto-tilling, going on, which is done with a machine that chops the soil up. The dogs of Alexandria have limited options on the end of the leash, but owners seem to adhere to the clean-up rule, and the trees seem to absorb the rest. Thats not really a problem, said Noelle.

Many times the roots come to the surface, which is normal for trees in these situations that are growing in what Noelle calls compacted soil. There is no need to cover the exposed roots, but if a tree dies somehow, the city will replace it with a similar tree. Noelle said the city does not currently have a maintenance plan for the trees, but recommends residents to call his office if a tree dies and it is not replaced in a timely fashion.

In recent weeks, the city embarked on a tree replacement project near Market Square involving magnolia trees that are planted on a squared off section near the corner of King Street and Pitt Street. Since this area is bordered by concrete, and over an underground parking garage, the tree planting area is the equivalent of a large pot. This year, we decided to remove them, said Noelle. The magnolias will be replaced with a similar tree.

A majority of shade trees planted along the streets are oaks and maples, but Chinese and Lacebark elms, or the London Planetree do well in this environment. We plant a lot of native trees, Noelle said, but the soil has been altered so much through the years, the native balance has changed.