Sunday, June 07, 2009

Trouble With the Tree

Last Fall, Betsy and I planted a tree in front of our house. The tree was given to us by a nonprofit company called Treevitalize, which promotes tree planting in urban areas in and around Pennsylvania. Ours was not the only house to receive a tree; several other houses in the neighborhood had applied and also received trees, all of which were being planted on the same day.

Our tree did differ from all the others, though, in that it was a bare root tree, rather than a ball-and-burlap tree. Bare root trees are just that - when the tree is dug up from the nursery, the roots are cleaned of dirt and dipped in a special gel that keeps them moist. Then the roots are wrapped in an air-tight plastic bag until it is time to plant the tree in its new space. Ball-and-burlap trees have a root ball - basically a big ball of dirt around the roots that is then enclosed in a wire cage and wrapped in burlap. The burlap and part of the wire cage are removed when the tree is put in the ground. There are pros and cons to both methods, but it is generally thought that the bare-root method gives the tree a better chance in its new environment.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for our tree. Of all the trees planted that Fall afternoon, ours is the only one that doesn't seem to be surviving. During the Spring, when leaves were starting to bud, I decided to take a picture of our tree each day to track its progress (see below). It quickly became apparent, though, that our tree wasn't progressing like all the others. Although there were some leaves and flowers, most of the branches remained bare. After awhile, green, leafy shoots began coming out of the base of the trunk. At first we thought this was a good sign (at least there's some growth), but we soon found out that this meant the tree was suffering from stress. The leafy shoots are known as "suckers," because they suck the life out of the tree.

Betsy and I found this out when we attended a local tree tenders program, which we just finished up last week. We learned about planting and caring for trees, proper pruning methods, and how to encourage others to get involved with planting trees. We showed one of our instructors pictures of our tree, and he told us that things did not look good - we should cut away the suckers and water it constantly, but even then, the tree was probably going to die.

We're doing as instructed, and hoping for the best. If it doesn't work out, we've been told that eventually the tree will be replaced with a new one by Treevitalize. In the meantime, Betsy and I have been busy planting other trees around the neighborhood, trying to cut down on the vast stretches of unbroken concrete here in South Philly. Fortunately, most of them seem to be holding their own.