Flood Damage to Trees after Hurricane Sandy: Lessons and Surprises

Robert Simpson public domain
Section of Long Island following Hurricane Sandy photographed by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Rob Simpson. Photo in the public domain.

by Michelle Sutton

The 2016 Atlantic Ocean hurricane season officially began June 1, with meteorologists offering varying opinions about how much activity we in the eastern U.S. will see. Hurricane Sandy (October 2012) savaged tree populations with both high winds and flooding. Sandy brought one storm surge of salt water that retreated with the same day’s tides. What were some of the impacts and lessons learned? We hear from a veteran arborist on Long Island and from a former NYC urban forester.

What are the major reasons flooding is so punishing for trees? Dr. Kamran Abdollahi, professor of forest ecophysiology in the urban forestry program at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, explains that flooding fills soil pores, denying tree roots access to the oxygen they need for respiration and water and nutrient uptake. Dr. Abdollahi says, “In the urban environment where soils are already compacted by human activities, flooding exacerbates compaction and its negative effects. Flooding can also negatively affect root anchoring and tree stability.”

Long Island
Arborist Joel Greifenberger is the owner of Valley Tree and Landscape in Long Beach, Long Island. Valley has planted more than 25,000 trees for NYC in over 25 years. Greifenberger says that on Long Beach, Hurricane Sandy brought several feet of salt water on land, “bay to ocean,” for about 12 hours. That brief flooding event left dramatic damage to the region’s trees, with some surprising victims.

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Arborist Exchange to the Wilds and Streets of NYC

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Durable tree tags support public awareness of tree planting efforts and are integral to the system used to track watering by contractors. Photos by Marty Frye 

The Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA), with funding from the Urban Forest Foundation, sponsors municipal arborist exchanges. The purpose is to create a way for municipal arborists to exchange urban forestry expertise, management ideas, and technology through in-person contact and on-site experience. What better way to find out how other forestry practitioners operate than to spend time with each other?

In the past year, NYC’s Director of Street Tree Planting Matthew Stephens visited Casey Trees in Washington, D.C. (you can read about his experiences here) and Casey Trees Arborist for Residential Plantings Marty Frye came to NYC Parks. Here’s what Marty learned from his time in the City. [Side note: The SMA is exploring opening up the exchange to utility arborists and to nonprofit community forestry professionals.]

Marty Frye headshot
Marty Frye

Marty Frye: 

New York City Parks is exemplifying what strong, informed municipal work in the public interest should look like. I had the distinct pleasure of spending time with members of the New York City Parks Department, digging into the nuts and bolts of how this work gets done. I also had the opportunity to compare both the wild side of the “back woods” of New York with its street side counterpart. This arborist exchange was professionally exhilarating and left me craving more knowledge.

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Transplanting and a Deeper Look at “Fall Hazards”

B&B trees on truck Matthew Stephens
B&B trees dug properly—i.e., when dormant. Photo by Matthew Stephens

by NYC Parks Director of Street Tree Planting Matthew Stephens and Taking Root Editor Michelle Sutton

We coauthored this story questioning commonly held beliefs about “fall hazards,” mostly as it applies to B&B trees, but we also discuss the interaction of the fall season with other production methods, like bare root. The section, “The Five Branches of Transplanting Success,” should be of interest to anyone planting trees, period!  With the help of Nina Bassuk and others, we tried to break down the complex interactions at work with transplanting. This article originally ran in Arbor Age (Fall 2015).  

The nursery industry is reluctant to dig certain species of trees in the fall, yet the “fall hazards” lists can vary significantly among nurseries. Also varying is the experience of nursery customers, including city foresters who plant hundreds or thousands of trees each year. In addition to digging season, there are other interacting factors at play in the fall planting picture.

A More Nuanced Look
Cornell Urban Horticulture Institute Director and street tree expert Dr. Nina Bassuk says, “Those fall hazards lists are generalizations. Typically the trees that appear on those lists are trees that are more difficult to transplant, period. In spring they don’t become easy to transplant; they’re just observed to be easier in the spring than in the fall.”

Tree Pittsburgh Director of Urban Forestry Matthew Erb has overseen the planting of more than 25,000 trees (mostly B&B) since 2008. “I’m sure if you look hard enough, you will find nearly every species on someone’s fall hazard list,” he says.

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