Have you ever seen a sad looking tree that was bare of leaves and the bark peeling off? Did you wonder if that tree might fall over at any moment? This situation is similar to what happened to my wife and I after we purchased our first home in South Baltimore.
We were delighted to find a home that had shade in front of our south-facing home to reduce the solar heat gains in the summer. However, after moving in we saw our healthy mid-height tree start to wither away, partially due to our own neglect and other factors such as dogs that took frequent “visits” to our tree. Then one night a strong rainstorm caused the tree to blow over and explode into pieces on the sidewalk. While picking up the pieces and looking at the leftover stump, we thought about how to get a new tree in this newly-emptied tree pit.
As transplants from Pittsburgh and central New Jersey, we had no clue what the next steps were in the city to replace our fallen tree. Therefore, we embarked on a journey into understanding how Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks operates to get a new tree. We looked online, had in-person meetings, and asked friends about trees. Ultimately, we concluded that there was a gap between the demand for tree-related requests and the resources of the parks department. They needed volunteers.
The Baltimore metropolitan area has about 2.8 million trees, but each year a large majority of those trees die, become distressed, or contract a disease. To counter the tree mortality rate, the city plants about 7,500 trees per year – that is lower than the 25,000-30,000 needed to reach the 40% tree canopy coverage goal set by city and state. Baltimore City is about 13 percent short of this goal.
Why grow the tree canopy? A single tree provides about $57,000 in economic and environmental benefits over its lifetime. As a homeowner, trees are a visual cue of a neighborhood vitality. As an employee of JMT, I spend my time designing buildings rarely interacting with trees, but I find it essential to give back to the community and tree plantings are an impactful way to help out.
Between our personal experience with our dead tree, volunteering with groups, and learning about the value of a single tree, we decided to form SOBO Green. The group started with a handful of certified TreeKeepers whose goal was to grow South Baltimore’s tree canopy. We used examples set by other Baltimore neighborhoods on how to get interest in tree plantings and host a successful event.
Growing a tree canopy takes more time than simply getting a tree and digging a hole – it requires some upfront work. First, we divided our neighborhood into seven zones and assigned each zone to different residents to complete existing tree surveys, documenting the locations of alive, dead, stump, and empty tree pits. This helped create a list of locations for our group to cover during the next tree planting event.
Each season we complete new inventory of the neighborhood, looking for new stumps or empty tree pits. Over two planting seasons, we have planted 52 new trees in South Baltimore alone. Starting this fall, we will expand our reach to an adjacent neighborhood, Riverside, with the help of a local resident. We now have our sights set on filling 49 empty pits and removing 50 stumps in that neighborhood.
Just as important as planting new trees is long-term care, which help trees live longer. SOBO Green developed water tags that are placed on every new tree planted to ensure that residents know how much to water younger trees.
We are always looking for volunteers, feedback, and suggestions about tree planting, tree maintenance, and streetscape enhancements. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit our Facebook page for information on upcoming events.