Photo by Leigh Anthony Dehaney on Flickr.

Trees give us shade and beauty, so it’s no wonder a lot of DC residents would want to help care for them. But while residents are still the first line of care for older trees, DDOT has a great safety net that boosts their efforts and helps new street trees thrive.

DDOT’s Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) inspects all of its new trees within the first year of planting, and it’s quick to respond to service requests for older trees as well. Beyond that, UFA keeps notes of what its arborists find and, and it makes public its plans for resolving the issue.

UFA relies on residents’ service requests to help prioritize annual street planting locations. This planting season, DDOT has a record 8,000 trees planned. Residents can watch the progress in what’s almost real time as DDOT updates its tree planting and removal maps daily.

DDOT has made a greater effort to take care of young trees

One criticism of the planting program voiced in 2010 was that the District was planting trees and then hoping residents would volunteer to water and care for them through UFA or Casey Trees. If nobody stepped up during the cool fall and winter, those same trees would all too often die during the first hot summer.

Fast forward to 2014, and DDOT has really stepped up its efforts. UFA is keeping metrics on not only first year trees, but also starting to track metrics on trees in their second year of growth.

Residents and business owners are still the ones who need to water trees that are more than a year old. But DDOT now installs a watering bag on all new trees, and during the summer it also waters them twice a month throughout their first year. There have been over 62,000 “watering events” for trees planted within the past year, and trees have gulped down over one million gallons of water in the time span. There’s even a nifty animated video showing the weekly watering activities from this past summer.

UFA’s agreement with its contractor allows for easy tree replacement

C&D Tree Service, DDOT’s contractor, charges $268 $295 for each tree it plants. For that price, C&D provides a warranty on each tree that that replaces trees that are dead, dying, or in poor condition which is the case if a tree has less than 90 percent live canopy. The only trees C&D isn’t responsible for are those damaged by vandals, drivers, or thieves.

UFA conducted a warranty replacement on 125 trees over the past year after residents submitted requests via calling 311. Beyond those requests, in September UFA arborists inspect every new trees planted during the previous fall and winter, resulting in several hundred more warranty replacements.

With the exception of one anomaly, the last half-decade has been great for DC trees

With all this care and attention, 19 out of 20 trees thrive after the first year. Prior to this past year, UFA reported tree mortality and warranty replacement within a very low range, 4.5-7.0 percent, over the past four seasons.

Ward Trees planted Warranty replacements required
1 388 59
2 591 60
3 1129 191
4 1080 151
5 955 166
6 1013 141
7 1203 200
8 982 171

Unfortunately, UFA’s supervisory forester Earl Eustler reports, last year was rough, as tree mortality spiked to approximately 15 percent. “In my 11 years of planting street trees in DC,” he said, “last year was the first in which the earth actually froze beyond a depth of a few inches near the surface.”

This year, DDOT plans to alter the planting schedule if a similar situation occurs.

As residents, our watering and tree-related service requests serve a critical role in expanding our tree canopy. With our help and UFA’s ongoing improvements, the District left the age of “plant and forget” in the past. Newly planted trees, when taken care of, will be part of our community for years to come.

Editor’s note: We’ve received clarification from UFA that while $268 was the cost per tree with warranty during the first year of the contract. We’re now in the fifth year and the contract cost is $295 per tree.

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 30 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve.