Dear Miss Floribunda,
Life isn’t fair. I bought my Hyattsville home 10 years ago mostly because of a gorgeous magnolia shading the dining room. The tree died this summer and had to be cut down. I know I’m not alone in this because a couple of my neighbors tell me they also chose their homes because of a favorite tree, and the same thing happened to them. I guess I could plant tomatoes in the now sunny area, but I really love trees. Can you recommend something really fast-growing?
Mourning my Magnolia on Madison Street
I’m sincerely sorry for your loss. Yes, trees can live longer than people do but they, too, are only mortal. Unfortunately, a number of splendid old trees in our town have died over the past few years. Fortunately, the City of Hyattsville works vigilantly to preserve our urban forest and has been recognized as a Tree City by the National Arbor Day Foundation for the past 25 years.
Thanks to a partnership with the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment and the D.C.-based nonprofit Casey Trees, the city will be planting more than 150 trees on public and private property over the next year. The program included a free tree giveaway to private citizens, and the overwhelming response shows you are not alone in your loss!
These trees will probably be small, but that’s good. Smaller trees with more of their root system intact have a much better chance of survival. Dawn Taft, the Hyattsville city arborist, has informed me that trees that grow too fast can have weaker wood — the “slower the tree grows, the stronger the wood.” Some recommended overstory trees that grow fairly quickly are the American linden, hackberry and willow oak. Because your question has other ramifications, I asked Ms. Taft to take time out from her busy schedule for an interview.
Floribunda: Thank you very much, Ms. Taft, for agreeing to talk with me about this new program. I know it’s a boon for individual citizens, but can you tell me the other reasons why the city is promoting it?
Taft: Hyattsville has a very mature and aging tree canopy. In the last two to three years, this mature canopy has been declining rapidly, and we have to take action to help ensure its robust maintenance. As we move to replace these aging trees, our space in the City Right of Way (ROW) is limited. Much of the space available is under power lines, where replacements will have to be understory trees (under 35 feet tall). We are looking for creative ways to encourage residents to plant trees on private property.
The focus of the grant received by Hyattsville is stormwater stewardship. Trees play a huge role in the reduction of stormwater as well as capturing and filtering of pollutants and sediment that would otherwise be carried to our streams and estuaries. We need them for clean water, clean air, shade, wildlife habitat, and our overall health and well-being.
Floribunda: Can you tell me what tree varieties are being offered as giveaways?
Taft: The application for the free tree program is now closed, but for the residents who applied soon enough and have been accepted as recipients, Casey Trees has a wide variety of native trees to choose from. At this time, it is limited to one per person. Someone from Casey Trees will consult with the resident on choosing the right tree and on planting it in the right place. There are requirements we follow for the distance away from utilities, typically 8-10 feet away. Trees selected this fall will be planted in the spring of 2021. If you are still interested in a free tree on your property, you can contact me directly at email@example.com, and I will log your information as we hope to do similar programs in the future.
Residents can apply for a free tree to plant in the public ROW at any time by going to hyattsville.org/trees.
Floribunda: What are the sizes of the saplings offered?
Taft: 6 to 8 feet tall with a 1.5 to 2 inch caliper. Caliper refers to the diameter of a tree’s trunk.
Floribunda: How large are they likely to get?
Taft: That depends on species. We would love to have all “overstory” trees planted but in some homes it is not possible, and any native tree is better than no tree at all.
Floribunda: Will there be a future tree giveaway? If so, how long would residents have to wait? For those who don’t want to wait, would the city reimburse citizens for purchasing trees on their own?
Taft: Because of the “treemendous” response already, requests have exceeded my free tree capacity by about 72 trees! I am looking for alternate funding and plan to continue these efforts to get trees planted for residents that want them. I do have some smaller 7-gallon trees that were to be given away this past Arbor Day if there is interest. In the meantime, I encourage the use of the Prince George’s County Rain Check Rebate Program through the Chesapeake Bay Trust (cbtrust.org/grants/prince-georges-county-rain-check-rebate). Citizens can receive a reimbursement of up to $150 per tree for the purchase and planting of native trees on their property provided they apply in advance.
Floribunda: If residents want to go ahead and buy native trees on their own, sooner rather than later, where could they find them?
Taft: There are lots of local nurseries in the area. I would suggest an internet search for local native tree sales. Returning to the topic of tree size, I recommend buying smaller trees in 15 to 20 gallon pots. Small trees typically are much healthier, more stable and easier to plant. Remember, they sleep the first year, creep the second and leap the third year! Interested community members should stay tuned for our series on tree education and stormwater management workshops coming in the spring of 2021.
Floribunda: Thank you, Ms. Taft. You’ve provided a wealth of information.