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Posted on: August 27, 2021

City’s Forestry Crew Hits New Milestone During Tree Planting Season

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The City of Portland’s Forestry Crew hit a new milestone this year by planting a whopping 201 new trees during tree planting season, a season that generally takes place between May and June. During this time, the forestry crew usually plants an average of 150 trees throughout Portland. They plant a wide variety of native and exotic trees via a number of programs and they look to areas in Portland with the greatest need along with finding plantable spaces that can sustain a healthy tree. While the planting of 201 trees has become the new benchmark for the forestry team, the crews partly owe this record to the weather, which allowed them to get started a few weeks early this year. 

“I’m really proud of the work our forestry crews were able to complete this year,” said Alex Marshall, the City’s Parks Director. “Hitting a new benchmark is no small feat. Some of the challenges we face when planting trees are viable planting spaces. There are existing tree wells across the city that have had trees in the past but are challenging places to maintain as there may not be enough root space, road/sidewalk salt is too plentiful in the winter, or underground/overhead utilities may be an obstacle.”

He added, “there are also a number of spaces that are in the queue for future reconstruction work to occur, which means it is in the tree’s best interest to wait until that has happened and we can improve the tree well infrastructure for long term sustainability. One hundred fifty to 200 planted trees is the sweet spot that our crew can maintain on an annual basis. Crews water these new plantings for the first two or three years of its life, so each summer we have a team out watering the 300-400 trees each week, which can be very challenging with staffing issues and equipment dependability.”

Portland City Arborist, Jeff Tarling, added “the Maine Forest Service's 'Project Canopy' program, that supports statewide community forestry, awarded Portland with funding to help us evaluate our intown neighborhoods that have the lowest canopy cover and to look for creative ways to expand canopy in the future. The focus area roughly includes: East Bayside, West Bayside, and intown neighborhoods between State Street to Washington Avenue, Commercial Street to Marginal Way. Trees are in competition to the already built environment, that includes road and parking lot pavement, existing buildings and utilities. Finding and creating sustainable tree planting sites is our goal.”

The Project Canopy Grant is an exciting opportunity for Portland to have a consultant research and map out a plan to increase canopy cover in the City by a designated percent over a given number of years. The recently completed American Forests Tree Equity Map will be a great tool to help City staff identify those spaces citywide and put more trees in the ground where feasible. The Project Canopy Grant will assist the City in diving much deeper into deficient areas and producing a formalized plan.

According to Luke Lermond, Portland Forestry Supervisor, “tree planting is quite involved. It's not as simple as just making a hole and sticking a tree in the ground. It all starts by locating a potentially viable tree planting site (based on growing space capacity, above and below ground). For below ground, we need adequate root space, free of impermeable objects like concrete, asphalt, and granite, and the site has to be clear of underground utilities such as waterlines, sewer, electrical, gas, and communication lines. For above ground, we look to see what potential conflicts may occur both at the time of planting and as the tree matures. For instance, overhead lines are a problem for medium to larger trees (as they grow) as the utility companies are required to prune trees that come close and can cause interruption in service.” 

Lermond continued, “this is detrimental to the tree and it usually causes a slow decline and mortality over time. We opt to only plant ornamentals under primary circuits, mitigating this problem. Ornamentals can cause other problems, such as wide spreading branches over narrow esplanades, causing conflicts with parked cars (if adjacent to a parking space), or traveling vehicles, and pedestrians on the sidewalks. They also can impede visibility at intersections. We try and prune as the tree matures to help alleviate these issues. We have also been choosing cultivars that have been selected to be more narrow in form. An ideal planting site would have a wide esplanade (6ft or larger from the curb edge to the sidewalk) or a lawn that is free of underground conflicts with no utilities above. It all comes down to planting the right tree in the right location and then weekly watering for success.” 

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