Drought Has Left Its Mark On Street Trees In Boston

By Beth Treffeisen

A severe drought has taken over most of Massachusetts, including Boston, where many of the trees that line the sidewalks may need a bit more love.

The city of Boston planted 1,424  new trees during the spring, leaving the younglings as the most vulnerable in the hot heat.

The city takes responsibility for the care and maintenance of all street trees. For the first two years of a newly planted tree a planting contractor will warranty the newly planted trees with basic maintenance including watering, mulching, minor pruning and replacing the tree if necessary.

The contractors will also water the tree once every two weeks during the growing season. The Parks Department is keeping to its regular care and is not doing any additional watering due to the drought.

But the city does encourage residents to care for the newly planted trees.

In downtown Boston, the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) has been sending out weekly newsletters with reminders for residents to water the trees outside their house.

In it, Katie Reinhardt from the BHCA said they’ve been asking residents to dig ditches around the trees and put the water there so that it penetrates the soil. Others have been walking around with backpacks and when they see a tree that needs it, they water it.

“The trees really need the water even though it rained on Wednesdday,” said Reinhardt.

According to the city of Boston’s website, during hot weather a tree needs approximately 30 gallons of water each week, applied in two separate times, with 15 gallons one day and another 15 gallons a few days later.

Signs of drought stress begin with wilting leaves. The first signs of wilting appear in the afternoon, when the weather is both the hottest and driest but it may disappear at night.

Another sign includes leaves changing color. Keep a look out for both red pigments in leaves that can be caused due to the indirect effects of soil water deficiency. Leaves can also turn yellow during prolonged dry periods.

Over down by the Commonwealth Mall, Margaret Pokorny who is the head of the garden club of the Back Bay stated that the general rule is that people should take care of the trees that are in front of their house, “and whether people do that or not, I’m not sure.”

Recently the club planted 16 new ginkgo trees on Clarendon Street and they have a volunteer that attends to them. The Commonwealth Mall has an irrigation system but the trees that line the sidewalks that over two years old are left on their own without the city’s help she said.

“It is up to whoever has the struggling tree in front of their house to take care of them,” said Pokorny. She added that the drought is especially tough for them due to the conditions that they already have to grown in.

“People think they don’t have to do anything,” said Pokorny. “They think that it’s the city’s problem and that they don’t have anything to do them.”

According the U.S. Drought Monitor, Boston has been categorized as being in a severe drought as of August 2, leaving many plants parched.

Boston receives most of its water from the Quabbin  Reservoir that has a 412 billion gallon capacity; the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority states that the system is so large that it can withstand short and medium-length droughts and dry periods without a significant impact on operating levels.

Therefore, Boston residents can feel at ease to give some water to the thirsty trees lining their sidewalks.

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