Vanessa Boukili, the inaugural urban forester of Somerville (now Senior Urban Forestry & Landscape Planner in the Public Space and Urban Forestry Division), has for five years been leading a concerted effort to plant and care for street and park trees. Tasked with planting about 350 trees each year, Vanessa works closely with contractors and the Department of Public Works to select trees appropriate to the sites, carefully prepare the sites, and after planting, monitor the watering, mulching and pruning of these trees in their first years.
In addition to showing us some lovely oaks recently planted in Nathan Tufts Park, Vanessa gave us quite a bit of useful information about how we can help.
- Adopt a tree close to where you live or work. Each young tree has a green tag you can scan for information about it, and an explanation of what it means to “adopt” it.
- Water your adopted tree on a regular basis, weekly during dry periods in the summer months. Ideally, fill up its gator bag with a garden hose. (Here are filling instructions.) The gator bag allows water to slowly seep down to the roots and prevents runoff. If you can’t reach it with a hose, give the tree some water when you can. The city hires contractors to water trees in dry summer weeks for two years. After that, it’s up to us to give them water if it’s dry. Keep watering 3-5 years out.
- Zip the gator bag around one of the tree’s stakes, not around the trunk. All that moisture around the trunk can promote disease and rot. If it’s around the trunk, move it to a stake, preferably the uphill stake so the water can slowly flow downhill to the rootball.
- Keep weeds out of the tree well so the tree isn’t competing with the weeds for water and nutrients. Also, remove trash which can adversely affect the soil.
- Place 2”- 4” of mulch around the tree (though not within 6” of the trunk!) if the city’s contractor has not. This will help the soil retain moisture and nutrients.
- Remove suckers growing at the base of the tree if you are very careful not to injure the trunk. If the trunk is engulfed in suckers, call 311 and DPW will get on the case.
- Refrain from applying fertilizer around the tree.
- Refrain from pruning the tree. This is done by professionals three years after it’s planted, both to remove dead wood and to shape the canopy for optimal structure.
- Refrain from locking bicycles to trees. If you see a bike chained to a tree, call 311. A call to 311 is also a good way to: request a tree be planted by your house; ask that a dead tree be taken down; ask that a tree to be pruned; or register concern about the health or condition of a particular tree.
- Refrain from putting posters on trees, either with staples or nails. These can harm the tree.
- Try to encourage dog owners to steer their dogs away from peeing on young trees. Because dogs are carnivores, their urine is acidic and can burn plants and their root systems.
If you’re really into trees:
- Consider joining Somerville’s Urban Forestry Committee next time there’s an opening.
- Check out Somerville’s first-ever Urban Forestry Management Plan
- If you’re interested in identifying the species of trees in Somerville, see the inventory map. Also, if you want to know what the City’s planted recently and what they’re planning on planting this fall, see https://www.somervillema.gov/departments/ospcd/psuf/urban-forestry.
- Join with friends and family to fund a memorial tree. The cost is $1,000, and trees come with ten years of care and a commemorative plaque.