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Restoring  the canopy Amherst begins planting 2,000 trees

  • Amherst DPW interns Andy Cox, left, and Ben Green plant a lilac tree at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Elm Street in Amherst as part of the town's effort to plant 2,000 shade trees to line town streets over the next three years. <br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Amherst DPW interns Andy Cox, left, and Ben Green plant a lilac tree at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Elm Street in Amherst as part of the town's effort to plant 2,000 shade trees to line town streets over the next three years.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ben Green plants a lilac tree at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Elm Street in Amherst and insures it is secure and straight. The town's goal is to plant 2,000 trees over the next three years. The trees can be planted in home owners' yards with the owner's permission.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Ben Green plants a lilac tree at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Elm Street in Amherst and insures it is secure and straight. The town's goal is to plant 2,000 trees over the next three years. The trees can be planted in home owners' yards with the owner's permission.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ben Green plants a lilac tree at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Elm Street in Amherst. The town's goal is to plant 2,000 trees over the next three years.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Ben Green plants a lilac tree at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Elm Street in Amherst. The town's goal is to plant 2,000 trees over the next three years.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst DPW interns Andy Cox, left, and Ben Green plant a lilac tree at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Elm Street in Amherst as part of the town's effort to plant 2,000 shade trees to line town streets over the next three years. <br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • Ben Green plants a lilac tree at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Elm Street in Amherst and insures it is secure and straight. The town's goal is to plant 2,000 trees over the next three years. The trees can be planted in home owners' yards with the owner's permission.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • Ben Green plants a lilac tree at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Elm Street in Amherst. The town's goal is to plant 2,000 trees over the next three years.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

Now, thanks to an extensive townwide tree planting effort, the Roznoys will be getting three Amur maackia trees to replace it.

“We did a lot of research into what we wanted, and decided on an unusual kind of tree,” Susan Roznoy said.

Amherst Tree Warden Alan Snow said the species is hardy to New England conditions, pest free and has nice flower and bark characteristics.

“This one fit all kinds of criteria,” Roznoy said. “We’re thrilled.”

The three smaller trees were recently planted in front of the Roznoys’ home, where the town has the right of way, as part of a $612,000 program that will result in 2,000 new shade trees going into the ground along Amherst streets over the next three years. More than 500 will be planted this year.

Town Meeting approved the bond for the reforestation program a year ago.

Town Manager John Musante said the plantings, done by town workers and University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture interns, will enhance the streetscape that has been decimated by the loss of trees in recent years, both from old age and severe weather, like the October 2011 snowstorm. It also will provide environmental benefits, he said. “It’s a well-organized plan.”

Snow has called for residents to make requests. Some, like the Roznoys, contacted his department more than a year ago to get in line. Some of the trees are being placed in spots of Snow’s choosing, such as Lincoln Avenue, where an aging tree canopy is at risk, and other streets where wide open treeless stretches exist.

“A lot of people aren’t aware the town may own a section of their front yard,” Snow said. “But we are trying to plant a tree where someone wants a tree.”

The right spots

Still, Snow and his team are scrutinizing the locations to make sure they are suitable.

A lot of effort goes into the planting, Snow said, as the trees need to be in the public right of way or within the town’s setback, but also far enough from the road and sidewalks so that they won’t be damaged by sand, salt, road debris or future construction.

On Strong Street at the Roznoy’s home, the sidewalk was widened and rebuilt within the past two years, meaning the Amur maackia trees have good space to grow.

“Hopefully the trees’ roots won’t ever need to be severed,” Snow said.

The planning also includes identifying where utility lines may go. The town’s water and sewer departments check to make sure no lines will be disturbed and the Dig Safe program ensures marks will be spray painted to designate phone, electric and gas lines. Once this is done, Snow pinpoints the tree’s location with a wooden stake that contains Snow’s office number in case anyone has questions.

Through bidding, the town chose Amherst Nurseries to supply the trees, which are dropped off the day before they are to be planted. At a cost of around $40,000, the town purchased a truck for the project, which Snow refers as a “self-contained tree-planting vehicle.” It has a lift gate that makes it easier to get trees on and off and a 200-gallon water tank that is powered by the engine, and it can haul mulch and equipment.

The crew, typically just two interns but occasionally one or two DPW employees as well, spends 40 minutes to an hour planting each tree, depending on the size and packaging. The largest trees have root balls tied in burlap, while the smaller ones are in grow bags or containers. The crew is out on the streets all five weekdays, if the weather is suitable, getting an average of 10 trees in the ground a day. Snow said he hopes these numbers can increase as the year progresses.

Into the ground

At the planting on Strong Street last week, the soil was easy to dig, with Stockbridge intern Ben Green of Conway carving out a saucer-shaped hole with a shovel. As he worked, intern Andy Cox of Sunderland began removing some of the compacted dirt to find what is called the root flare of the tree, where the stem ends and the roots begin. “I usually stop at the first signs of flaring,” Cox said.

“It’s critical to find the proper planting depth,” explained Snow. “Some contractors and homeowners don’t realize this is a crucial step.”

Snow said the tree must re-establish its distance from the soil surface, as roots want oxygen and if planted too deep the roots will shoot straight up. “That may take longer for the tree to get established and the tree may grow smaller,” he said.

Cox measured the necessary depth and Green took enough dirt out of the hole to accommodate the root ball. Snow said the hole should be about twice as wide as the root ball.

While Green continued to prepare the hole, Cox snipped off dead branches. When the tree was just about ready to go into the hole, they cut away the metal cage that holds the burlap in place.

For trees that weigh in excess of 250 to 300 pounds, the interns “tilt and roll” the tree into the ground. Then, they refill the hole with dirt about halfway up and then fill the rest with water to see where the gaps in the soil are, a process called “mudding in” the tree. They then add dirt from the site to ground level.

“Ideally you want to use the same soil. You’d rather have it (the tree) established in what it will be growing in,” Snow said.

After tapping the soil with a rake, the final step is adding two to three inches of mulch, made from woodchips processed from trees the town has taken down. Microbes in the mulch contributes to the tree’s health and creates a well that helps keep water within the root zone.

The crew later will attach what are called 20-gallon gator bags to the trees. Water will seep from the bag into the ground over a six-hour period.

Still taking requests

Both Cox and Green are getting paid, but also receiving college credits for their work. Cox said he is keeping a daily diary, taking photos of tree species, and will have a PowerPoint presentation to make for a class at Stockbridge when he begins his second year in the fall.

Green said that since they began work in April, passers-by have been taking note of their efforts.

“A lot of people are stopping by and asking about what’s going on,” he said.

The crew has information about the program, including submission forms, so individuals may request trees. Interested parties can also get more information on the town’s website.

Snow said 500 to 600 trees will be planted this year, primarily in the spring and fall. And the town will tend to them for the next three years. He said trees are the only infrastructure that gets better over time, with a cooler environment being one of the benefits.

“What they’re doing today future generations will be enjoying,” Snow said.

We who live in Amherst are certainly lucky to have Alan Snow living here and doing this wonderful work. I am in awe of his knowledge of trees.

I would absolutely love for Northampton to be able to have this kind of program also. It's a shame that there is no more tree warden and little to no resources to protect, manage, and rebuild the shade tree canopy in Northampton. The day will come soon that the Tree City award will be sad memory.

Hear, hear!

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