It turns out that getting a tree to grow in Brooklyn is harder than Betty Smith would have us believe. Late last month, when WNYC editor Matthew Schuerman questioned whether or not anyone would notice if a tree died in this city, we took his query to be more the rhetorical kind; its aim being to draw attention to a nagging problem New York Restoration Project and NYC Parks are facing with their joint MillionTreesNYC initiative. They are still on track to plant a million trees across the city by 2015 through the reforestation project, but, as Schuerman points out, getting a million trees into the ground versus keeping them there are two entirely different things.
Of the 800,000-plus trees that have so far been planted in parks, private yards and public spaces since 2007, the approximately 130,000 that have been designated as street trees are at a higher risk of dying due to neglect. With no one specifically assigned to take care of them, they’re kind of the arborist equivalent of a sink full of dishes in a communal kitchen—with everyone waiting for someone else to pick up the sponge.
Dying trees, known as snags, are common, and although MillionTreesNYC’s mortality rates are on par with other urban environs like Los Angeles, fluctuating between 7–12% from year to year, some Brooklyn neighborhoods like Greenpoint and Williamsburg are seeing mortality rates as high as 22%. The reforestation project would prefer to hit as few snags as possible as it closes in on its million-tree mark toward the end of next year. In order to do this—and for all of us to reap the maximum benefits a million more trees would bring to New York City’s concrete jungle—it needs people to start stewarding some street trees.
In April I spoke with Shalini Beath, deputy director of MillionTreesNYC, during a tree planting at Jamaica Bay Park in Queens, and she didn’t hesitate to say that the initiative was in need of help.
“In order for these trees to grow into these mature healthy trees, people have to help us care for them,” Beath says. “Only if these trees reach their maximum canopy size will we get all of the clean air benefits; the storm-water capture benefits; the shade and the list is endless. After trees are planted, they’re kind of getting established, and that’s the period where we encourage all New Yorkers to come out. The trees need a little TreeLC to get established and grow into healthy trees.”
Beath says one of the best way for New Yorkers to get involved in the reforestation project at this point is by signing up for one of MillionTreesNYC’s TreeLC workshops, which take place year round at various places across the city.
“It’s a tree-care workshop where they learn the basics of how to care for their street tree,” she says. “It can be a tree in front of their home, in front of their school or business. We give them a free tree kit if they pledge to care for a tree.”
“They can either take a basic workshop—no experience necessary; we’ll teach you everything you need to know to get started. We also offer Care Captain workshops at an intermediate level so you can learn how to teach your friends and neighbors how to care for a tree. Ultimately we really want to empower New Yorkers to be able to teach and care for trees, so they can continue to care for trees in their neighborhoods.”
The four stewardship workshops left this month are all taking place in Manhattan or the Bronx on Thursday mornings from 10am to 1pm, but if you don’t feel like hoofing it to another borough or can’t make the early morning commitment on a weekday, a TreeLC handbook is also available for download here, and you can locate trees in need of adoption through MillionTreesNYC’s website here.
“We want to encourage all New Yorkers to come out and care for these newly planted trees because that’s really what the focus of the future is on,” Beath says. “Planting trees is only the first step.”