Cornell Urban Hort Institute: Interesting Research Continues Apace

The Council’s longtime Board member and beloved speaker, Nina Bassuk, gives us an update on three areas of research underway at UHI. Dr. Bassuk will be the plenary speaker for the NYSUFC Conference this July. (Register now for best rate!) 

UHI researchers are attempting to fast-track propagation of alkaline-tolerant oaks that should come onto the market in the next five to ten years.
UHI researchers are attempting to fast-track propagation of alkaline-tolerant oaks that should come onto the market in the next five to ten years. Photos Courtesy UHI.

New Oaks for Tough Sites 
Dr. Nina Bassuk founded and directs Cornell’s Urban Horticulture Institute (UHI) and conducts applied research in the areas of plant improvement, transplanting technologies, and soil remediation.  “We think of everything we do in terms of potential practical value to the field,” she says.

For example, owing to hybridizing work UHI has been doing since the early 1990s, some oak introductions will be coming onto the market in the next five to ten years that could be game-changers: a whole series of oaks—not just English and bur oak—that can tolerate a pH of 8.0! That means oaks with foliage that stays green in the alkaline soil conditions prevalent in urban settings (and we are increasingly recognizing that in terms of plant stress, “urban” conditions are everywhere—not just in cities.)

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Historic “Great Trees” Returning to NYC

willow cutting
Willow cutting taken in September of 2008 from the parent willow, a giant crack willow (Salix fragilis) in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Photo Courtesy NYC Parks

In January 2008, a small group of intrepid high school students from New York City’s John Bowne High School joined a team of arborists from Bartlett Tree Experts high in the canopy of one of Central Park’s oldest trees. They sought to make sure that this tree, a European Beech planted at the direction of Frederick Law Olmstead during the construction of Central Park, would have a legacy beyond its natural lifespan. They were surrounded that winter morning by organizations united by an ambitious vision: to clone New York City’s aging historic trees and populate the five boroughs with their offspring.

The NYC Historic Great Tree Cloning Project, sponsored by the TREE Fund, Bartlett Tree Experts and the New York City Parks Dept, exemplifies how advances in tree science have changed the landscape for tree preservation. In addition to protecting the existing tree canopy, urban forestry in the 21st century allows for preservation of the genetic material of culturally and environmentally significant trees to ensure that they are not lost forever. Additional support for the project was provided by the Coleman Company, Inc., Marmot Mountain LLC and David Milarch, co-founder of the Champion Tree Project International.

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ReLeaf Conference Coming Up! Some Highlights from the Program

The 22ND Annual NYS ReLeaf Conference   

July 17-19 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY

REGISTER NOW FOR BEST RATE!

Please see the full program here.   HIGHLIGHTS: 

Nina_Bassuk_250pxPlenary Session: Trees for the Urban Landscape This presentation will showcase Nina’s knowledge and recommendations for the best trees to use in urban settings. Municipalities will learn the best management practices to improve the best uses of plants within the urban ecosystem. The broader audience made up of volunteers and professionals will hear of the latest resources available to integrate technology and science into local landscapes. Demonstration sites using soil technology will show past and present success stories. —Dr. Nina Bassuk, Executive Director, Urban Horticulture Institute, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 

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Getting to Know Council Founder Nancy Wolf

Nancy Wolf in her garden with grandson Noah John, 8 1/2, and granddaughter Veronica, 4 1/2.
Nancy Wolf in her garden with grandson Noah John, 8 1/2, and granddaughter Veronica, 4 1/2. Photo by Ellen Wolf

Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in arboriculture, urban forestry, and environmental education? Nancy Wolf: I grew up in a small southern Appalachian town in the Clinch River Valley of Virginia that was surrounded by farms. Everyone had gardens, my father kept chickens and my grandmother had a Jersey cow, which produced the best milk and butter in the world. I loved tree climbing and my first experience in “knowing” a tree was while perched in the major crotch of a big maple, surrounded by branches, leaves and breezes.

In my small high school, we were fortunate to have a well-educated science teacher who had just returned from World War II. Mr. Couch, in better days, would probably have gone on to graduate school and become a college teacher. The botany part of his biology class was “it” in terms of my entry into what I later understood was horticulture and arboriculture. His field trips and hands-on activities with plants brought to class were environmental education long before the term was introduced.

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The Story of BROW: Planting Street Trees Beyond the Right-of-Way—and What it Means for New Yorkers

By Al Wegener, Landscape Consultant

Is it legal for a municipality to plant street trees beyond the right-of-way (ROW)—that is, on private property?

Sugar maple in New Paltz shows effect of cutting by utility, age and decay, with no room within ROW for planting new tree. Photo by Al Wegener
A sugar maple in New Paltz affected by utility pruning, age, and decay, with no room within ROW for planting new tree. Al Wegener

It’s a question I’ve run into a lot when planning street trees with towns and villages.  That’s in part because with the widening of our roads over the years and the construction of sidewalks, there is often insufficient soil volume in the ROW to support street trees.  Furthermore, some highway superintendents want a ROW free of trees so they can do street maintenance operations more easily. Also, trees in the ROW may conflict with utility lines, a battle neither “wins.” So it’s really tempting to plant just a few feet beyond the ROW, on what might be an open and inviting lawn. But is it legal to do so?

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Getting to Know Mike Mahanna: Arborist, Business Owner, and Council Executive Committee Member

Mike and Dianne
Mike Mahanna with wife Dianne.

Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in arboriculture and urban forestry? Mike Mahanna: I grew up in the city of Utica and was always mesmerized by the American elm trees and the way they lined the city streets and formed a canopy almost appearing to touch in the middle. I spent many hours walking those streets with my family—and suddenly they were gone. At the time I had no idea it was because of Dutch elm disease, but I did miss seeing them and was saddened by the void they left and lack of beauty it created.

I also spent years as a child camping with my Dad in the Adirondack Mountains and loved everything about it. I knew at a young age that I wanted to spend most of my time outdoors.

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Phenology, the Urban Forest, & Nature’s Notebook

by Theresa Crimmins, USA National Phenology Network; theresa@usanpn.org; @TheresaCrimmins and Dudley Hartel, Urban Forestry South, USDA Forest Service; dhartel@fs.fed.us; @treeobs

Urban foresters and urban forestry advocates are well suited for tracking recurring seasonal events such as leafing, flowering, and fruiting. The study of these phenomena is known as phenology. Adding this activity to your weekly routine has a lot to offer; this simple measurement can help you or your urban forester choose the best time to perform management activities, serve as an early warning indicator of trouble brewing among your trees, offer education and engagement opportunities, and support research. And, it’s fun!

Phenology observer Brian F. Powell
Phenology tracking can be done by urban foresters, tree lovers, and urban forest advocates. Photo by Brian F. Powell

Schedule management activities. Tracking phenological events such as leaf-out and leaf drop can be very informative for planning. For example, knowing when leaves are falling from different dominant tree species can help public works crews schedule street sweeping operations for maximum efficiency. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota are using residents’ observations of when different tree species are dropping their leaves to schedule street sweeping activities. Such well-timed removal keeps leaves out of storm drains, which improves water quality in city lakes and impoundments.

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Christopher Anderson & the Association of Towns of the State of New York

Chris Anderson is a NYSUFC Board Member and is Director of Research for the Association of Towns of the State of New York, headquartered in Albany.

Please tell us about your background. I’m originally a Hoosier. While both of my parents came from farm families, I was raised in the second largest city in Indiana—Fort Wayne. I’ve lived in New York—Albany, Schenectady, and Schoharie counties at various times—for the last 17 years. I love New York and have no plans on leaving.

Chris Anderson

What is your personal connection to urban forestry? Whether it was the grove of American beech on my grandmother’s farm near Indianapolis or the black locust outside my window as a child in Fort Wayne, I’ve always had great affinity for trees. As a local government wonk, I’ve learned the value that urban forestry provides. What initially was aesthetic pleasure has grown to include a practical appreciation as well.

Please tell us about the Association of Towns. The Association of Towns was established in 1933 to help town obtain greater economy and efficiency. It serves town governments by providing training programs, research and information services, technical assistance, legal services, insurance programs, and a variety of educational publications to member towns.

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Getting to Know Jeremy Barrick

Jeremy Barrick is Deputy Chief of Forestry, Horticulture, and Natural Resources for the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation and a graduate of the Municipal Forestry Institute. This is adapted from a profile of Jeremy that appeared in City TREES.

Jeremy Barrick

Jeremy, can you tell us about your education and career trajectory? Jeremy Barrick: Growing up in a small town in Minnesota that had a city forester, I have always been interested in city trees. After passing through a couple of different declared majors in college, I came to my senses and settled on my boyhood dreams of managing city trees;  who wouldn’t want to drive around town in a truck with a black lab and look at trees all day?

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New, Free UHI Guide to Woody Shrubs for Stormwater Retention

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Harrison Street bioswale in Syracuse by Ethan Dropkin

New from the Cornell Urban Horticulture Institute (UHI) is Woody Shrubs for Stormwater Retention Practices (Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regions), a free 56-page guide by Ethan Dropkin and Nina Bassuk. The Guide includes an extensive suggested plant list with beautiful photos and helpful illustrations. It will be of interest to anyone working with vegetated filter strips, bioswales, rain gardens, specialized tree pits, and stormwater planters.

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