Saturday, December 17, 2011

Debate over DC tree law begins

At a lunchtime briefing on December 5, Phil Mendelson, DC Council Member-at-Large, launched public debate over how to protect and expand DC's tree canopy. Mendelson has introduced a bill that would update the 2002 Urban Forest Preservation Act (UFPA) by protecting mid-size as well as large trees, and by moving the city forestry agency to a different department.

Mark Buscaino, executive director of Casey Trees, commented on Mendelson's bill and suggested changes. The discussion that followed was lively, moderated by Chris Weiss of DC Environmental Network, which hosted the Wilson Building event. Weiss said that DCEN has not taken a position on Mendelson's bill nor Casey Trees' recommendations. DCEN hopes to get debate going in DC about how the present tree law and management of trees can be improved. A video of this informative session can be found on DCEN's web site.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Life as a Treekeeper and Other Stories

By Robert Nevitt
As a Treekeeper with Restore Mass Ave, I enjoy outdoor work with fellow volunteers and building relationships with the interesting people along this famous street, widely known as Embassy Row.

For example, I have become acquainted with the Embassy of Togo (2208 Mass Ave). The land between the Embassy and the public sidewalk looked to be a fine site for a new tree. RMA hoped to plant there one of a new row of stately trees. Why? Because a century ago, parallel lines of large trees formed allees along Mass Ave sidewalks for miles. We're trying to bring back a bit of that beauty.

At embassies, we begin with the gatekeeper and work our way through the hierarchy until we reach a decision maker. At the Togo Embassy, the decision maker turned out to be Ambassador L.E. Kadangha Bariki himself, an urbane gentleman who welcomed the chance to interact with the community.  The Ambassador explained his love of trees--and the need to reforest Togo. On the day RMA and our partner, Casey Trees, planted a young elm tree in front of his Embassy, the Ambassador appeared, elegant as ever but ready to participate.*

 Ambassador L.E. Kadangha Bariki in front of the Embassy of Togo as the hole is dug for the new tree.
A number of fine old mansions on Embassy Row are being renovated. But heavy equipment, debris piles and truck traffic threaten nearby trees. Construction activity can swiftly undo our work nursing trees in sidewalks and yards and wreck Mass Ave's future beauty.

Catoctin Construction is undertaking a complete restoration of the Cameroon Embassy (2349 Mass). It is one of Mass Ave's most famous Beaux Arts "palaces;" RMA and Casey Trees planted two new elm trees with the help of the Cameroon Ambassador in 2009. So I approached the construction crew.

Jeff Scott, Catoctin's project manager, has been wonderful to work with. His crew put orange fences around the two young elms. They sodded the lawn so the site will be pleasantly green during the renovation. The crew also waters regularly a new cherry tree we planted across the street; as a result it did very well in last summer's heat. 

RMA Treekeepers create a micro-environment of good, aerated soil and water that the city sidewalk trees need to reach mature size. I get to do all this in the company of (mostly) young men and women who share this happy therapy of "playing" in the dirt.

I'm on the left, in the hat; Nancy Ricca is watering a city linden tree after we weeded and mulched its tree box.
   In case you don't believe this tree needed help, below is how it looked before we started our rescue operation.

Finally, on my walks with the city Urban Forestry Administration forester to inspect these sidewalk trees, we discuss each tree's condition and define our respective roles.  To date RMA estimates that the city has planted about 100 trees in Embassy Row sidewalks to replace dead or dying ones and fill in empty tree boxes. Separately, RMA has arranged more than 120 new trees for lawns and yards, including the "second row" elms at the embassies of Cameroon and Togo.

Actuarial tables suggest I am unlikely to see the ultimate fruit of my labors, though the image of the allees of trees that graced the sidewalks a century ago*** are an inspiration. But there are more immediate rewards, too.

*See for our planting of 16 trees with Casey Trees  October 22, 2010.
** The shaded allee of 1913 is at .

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pruning Watch: Historic Crimean Linden

15 SEPT 2011

THE BLAST OF BUZZ SAWS in Sheridan Circle made me hurry there, expecting the worst.

The noise came from someone in a cherry picker, high in the branches of possibly the most remarkable historic tree on Embassy Row.  In the surrounding lawn of Sheridan Circle lay piles of fat logs; clearly the job under way was part of the Park Service’s maintenance of the area. 

“No cutting down, only pruning,” the work crew told me. But it takes just an hour for a well-equipped crew to massacre a century ‘s worth of slow tree growth.  I asked the crew to stop while I contacted the company, GreenTree.  The dispatcher put me in touch with the Park Service supervisor; he was nearby and came over. He too said the job was “only” pruning and that the tree’s lovely form would stay intact.

Below, limb removal from the Crimean linden

So: how well did GreenTree prune the tree?

The “before” photo below was taken in September 2007, looking south across Sheridan Circle.   The “after” photo was taken a few days ago, when GreenTree finished.  And, note, pruning mature trees is art as well as science.* ,

Below, taken in September 2007 (Photos: Restore Mass Ave)

What makes this tree historic and newsworthy? It was likely a mistake!

This tree’s low, curving branches suggest it is a Crimean linden (Tilia euchlora) that branch near the bottom; they are different from straight-trunked lindens such as American linden (Tilia Americana).   

Below, taken in September 2011

After the Civil War, the city’ horticulturalists who turned  muddy Washington into the “City of Trees,” used one species on a street or monoculture.

They chose the American linden for Mass Ave, to make it better than Berlin’s famous grand avenue, Unter den Linden. News accounts and city engineers’ reports show that this one species was planted in double rows for four miles across the city.

The Washington Post on Sept 4, 1904 wrote that a ”highway” of 500 more lindens would be planted on the new part of Massachusetts Avenue, to make it “Earth’s noblest shaded way.”  A typical later account two decades later was a news story of the writer’s trip, from Union Station to beyond Sheridan Circle, under the fragrant canopy of linden blossoms in June. The linden rows of Berlin were “a disappointment” compared to Mass Ave.

The rows were always reported to be of American lindens.

If this Crimean linden was an error, it was a spectacular one!


Useful links:

* Trees Are Good (International Society of Arboriculture , ISA)
Pruning mature trees (PDF with useful illustrations)

1904 Linden Beats Hurricane Damage

7 SEPT 2011

EMBASSY ROW’S TREES were among the lucky ones spared when Hurricane Isabel swept across Washington August 27.  One very large street tree behind the Embassy of Cameroon (2349 Mass) toppled; but its upended roots show it was a goner already and the city will replace it.  

A huge American linden on the northwest corner of Sheridan Circle lost a massive branch.  We know and admire this tree, which was installed in the city’s planting of 500 Tilia Americana along Mass Ave in 1904.

Below: This 2008 photo shows a new linden we added to fill in the line by  the house at 2324 Mass Ave. Behind it is the large linden that dates from the planting of the ‘second row’ in 1904. (Photos: Restore Mass Ave)

This tree has thrived for more than a century. Anyone looking up into its high, graceful branches can see how well “second row” trees grow in open lawns. They root well in the land along the edge of Mass Ave known as “the parking” – public land which city horticulturalists planted as “park” with rows of shade trees more than a century ago.

The Embassy of Korea maintains the section of “the parking” as velvety lawn shaded by the massive linden.   To rebuild the “second row” of trees here, Restore Mass Ave arranged the planting of another large-type linden (Tilia tomentosa) in 2007.  Also thanks to our non-profit partner Casey Trees, in 2009 we planted two new ginkgo biloba trees, filing in the “second row” ring around the circle.

Below: The same 1904 linden with the branch belled by the hurricane The Embassy of Korea allowed this fine example of historic landscape to survive.

Thanks the Embassy and Dodson Tree Co., only the fallen part of this big old linden was removed.  And at least one expert who toured the trees after the storm told RMA that  the tree’s remaining structure is  sound enough for it to survive.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Hydrants can Water Trees

15 JULY 2011

WASHINGTON’S HOT SUMMERS hit sidewalk trees with a double whammy. Heat from the sun above bakes the leaves and dries the soil. The sun’s heat also bounces up from the pavement baking the leaves from below. So trees are cooked from above, cooked from below, while their growing medium dries out. Ouch!

So regular watering of young and vulnerable trees is crucial, especially trees in paved areas.

Each summer, Restore Mass Ave urges property owners to turn their hoses onto the sidewalk trees: 25 gallons each week, dripped slowly. Or to refill the bags we zip around the trees, which allow a slow drip from holes in the bottom. In the terrible drought of 2007, we paid for a truck to water about 120 city trees. (Thanks to your donations!)  We can’t be sure but believe that many of these trees would have died without this help.

Our Treekeeper volunteers work on hard-to-reach “orphan” trees, by dragging hoses hooked to nearby spigots. Sometimes they carry water-filled buckets in our red Flyer wagon to and from a parched tree.

Below see RMA Treeekeeper Sarah Randolph at work. (Photo: Restore Mass Ave)

This summer, fire hydrants will be our new rescue tool. We’re being loaned a Fire Hydrant Meter by the Dupont Circle Citizens’ Association on days DCCA doesn’t need it. The device (see photo) is a water meter and pressure converter; there is also a key for unlocking the hydrant.

The Fire Hydrant Meter measures the quantity of water used. It converts the high-pressure water from the hydrant to a low enough pressure for a garden hose – just right for helping a tree. (Trees should be given water slowly, so the soil and roots can to absorb it.) 

The equipment is heavy, so we tow it in our red Flyer wagon along the sidewalk from hydrant to hydrant. (DCCA tows it on a bike trailer.)

Thus our water-brigade can water the sidewalk trees which need water, with the amount they need, when they need it. 

Note:  RMA will provide this care on just few afternoons; the hydrant-watering is NO substitute for the main weekly water trees building owners should provide to nearby sidewalk trees.

See below for useful links for fire hydrant watering.

Recordall® Fire Hydrant Meter (Photo: Badger Meter)


Useful links

Note: To use a public hydrant for tree-watering, you must obtain a Fire Hydrant  Use Permit from DC Water (WASA), a hydrant key and pay a deposit. The Meter measures water used, which you must pay for.  See

Casey Trees' summer crew also waters by-cycle. See



We thank Doug Rogers, chair of the DCCA Tree Committee, and Greg Zahn of DCCA for sharing the equipment and how to use it.  

Thanks also go to Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) for the training class in using hydrants for tree-watering. Casey Trees inspired us all with their Water By-Cycle Cart it uses to be sure the trees it plants on city streets get enough water.

How you can boost city trees with leaf mulch

5 JUNE 2011

HERE’S ONE REASON trees in city sidewalks grow poorly: crummy soil that hinders root development. Think about it: the pavement around a tree blocks its fallen leaves from decomposing in the soil and feeding its roots, as happens in nature.

You can help sidewalk trees with a layer of decomposing leaves spread directly on the soil. There must be no barrier so the decomposing leaves can trickle down, so you have to pull away all grass and weeds from around the tree first. Think of the leaf mulch layer as a one-time treatment - First Aid for a stressed sidewalk tree. Afterwards you can bandage the site with a 3 inch layer of shredded hardwood mulch (just don’t pile it against the tree, please).

The mulch layer will make weeding and tidying the tree box easier for seasons to come. You’ll increase the chances of having healthier, bigger trees shading the sidewalk and street. Also, a tree with strong roots is less likely to be toppled in storms.

Image: Heart Views

“I struggled trying to grow up until I got leaf-mulched!”

Here are the steps Restore Mass Ave followed in our second leaf mulch project on June 4 and 5. We treated another 20 sidewalk trees, in addition to the 50 we treated last fall; in all we’ve helped 70 DC street trees this way. It seemed worth the work and relatively small expense to help these trees to live a few more decades!

Step 1: Weed a 9’x 4’ area around the tree so the soil surface exposes the flare where trunk meets the main roots. 

Step 2: Snip off any little surface roots; cut any roots “girdling” the base; both will weaken the tree.  

Step 3: Spread shredded leaf mulch over the soil; the new layer will be fluffy with a musty smell like tobacco.

Step 4: Cover the black leaf mulch with shredded hardwood bark mulch to outline a neat box. That’s the “bandage” everyone will see, which will be help against weed growth, mowers, and heavy loads.

Step 5: Stand back and admire your neatly groomed tree and box. Be glad that underground, the roots will be fed naturally for several seasons. Listen.

Maybe you’ll hear the tree saying, Thanks!


Below: We clear weeds and grass from the tree. (Photo: Restore Mass Ave)

Below: We dump black, fluffy leaf mulch on the exposed soil. You can see the flare where the trunk becomes the tree’s main roots. (Photo: Restore Mass Ave)



We recommend you employ a professional if you try to help a whole line of street trees. We found Leprechaun Landscaping LLC of Bethesda. Md. to be experienced and reasonable. 

Shredded leaf mulch is sold as Karbon® Leaf Mulch at Loudon Composting in Chantilly, Va. Some public parks departments, such as that of Arlington County, offer shredded leaf mulch to residents. To find out if DC offers mulch from the leaves it sweeps off our streets and parks, call the Mayor’s Service Line 311.

We thank Dr. Monica Lear of the DC Urban Forestry Administration for recommending we try this for city sidewalk trees. We thank also T. Davis Sydnor of Ohio State University, who devised this protocol.

Venezuela Plants 18 “Replacement Trees”

1 MAY 2011

IN MAY THE Embassy of Venezuela planted 18 new trees as replacements for a very large old tree it sought to cut down, to comply with the DC tree law.

This planting will extend the tree canopy over bare parts of the Ambassador’s residence at 2443 Mass Ave on the corner of Mass Ave and California Street. Fifteen trees were added to this campus, notably four new ‘Valley Forge’ elms that re-build the ‘second row’ by the Mass Ave sidewalk, and a tulip poplar at the corner. Behind the military office at 2437 California Street, three cherry trees were planted.

Below: The Embassy’s Clara Rodriquez and a new Chinese Lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia ) and Hackberry (Celtis accidentalist). (All photos: RMA)

Under the tree law, 18 new trees were required for the city to allow the Embassy to cut down an ash tree behind the military office that was 115 inches in diameter. The city asked Restore Mass Ave to advise on the new planting.

Under the tree law, to cut down a healthy “special tree” of 55 inches or greater, an entity – even a foreign mission – must agree to plant “replacement trees” whose “circumference inches” (CI) equal that of the tree to come down. Or they must pay into the Tree Fund.* How big is a 55” CI tree? Below a Restore Mass Ave Treekeeper shows you. 

Below:  RMA Treekeeper hugs a 55” circumference “special tree.” (Photo: Restore Mass Ave)

The Venezuela Ambassador’s residence is one of the loveliest campuses on Embassy Row. When it was built in the 1930s, the old-growth forest of Kalorama was left standing; so were the “second row” trees lining the sidewalk. As these older trees die, the bare land needs new groves.

Below: Two new ‘Valley Forge’ elms in a line parallel to the public sidewalk. (Photo: Restore Mass Ave)

Next door, with our partner Casey Trees, Restore Mass Ave has arranged more than 20 large-type trees at the

Overall, city land needs 2,000 more acres of mature tree canopy. On Embassy Row, everyone in the community is trying to help!



Trees were provided by Landscape Development Co., Woodbine, Md. 

* DC Urban Forest Preservation Act of 2002 can be downloaded through this page

** Useful aspects of the Tree law on RMA's website

Below:  RMA Treekeeper hugs a 55” circumference “special tree.” (Photo: Restore Mass Ave)

Below: The Embassy’s Clara Rodriquez and a new Chinese Lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia ) and Hackberry (Celtis accidentalist). (Photo: Restore Mass Ave)

Trees as Storm-fighters

1 APRIL 2011

ONE WAY THAT trees help cities: a neighborhood with lots of mature trees needs less maintenance of underground storm drains and tunnels.

Here are two storm-fighting trees Restore Mass Ave planted with our partner Casey Trees in March. In the foreground is a Northern catalpa (C. speciosa). Behind is a swamp white oak (Q. bicolor).

Above: Northern Catalpa (C. Speciosa) tree (Photo: Restore Mass Ave)

Don’t they look fragile? But thanks to care by the Church of the Pilgrims, which abuts this land, these trees will grow into big, spreading structures that lessen water runoff onto 23d Street (on the right) and down to Rock Creek.

That is why we planted next to Rock Creek valley. We’re especially glad that the Park Service gave permission for these trees, because after the planting, we learned that there will be a one- to two-year project to replace the underground pipes taking storm water down to the creek here.

The city’s old combined sewer and storm system (CSS) backs up in storms. In sudden drenching storms sewage etc., instead of flowing through the system to the Blue Plains plant, overflows into the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and Rock Creek. One outflow pipe is by this location.* As part of a pipe and tunnel upgrade that’s six year’s on, these deep old pipes will be replaced.

Billions of dollars in new tunnels and pipes isn’t the only way to get our watershed to meet federal standards (finally). Greenroofs and bigger sidewalk tree boxes can stanch the water volume burdening the system and lessen maintenance costs. So will more trees strategically planted in open land.**

Basta about sludge!

Below are the flowers of a mature catalpa tree, white and trumpet-shaped in showy arrays. Catalpas grow 40 to 50 feet tall and spread 20 to 40 feet wide. With large trees, about a third of all rainfall is caught by the leaves. The trunk takes up more, while the root system carries much of the rest down in the ground.

Above: Catalpa flowers (Photo:  Mvia45)

This is Nature’s plumbing, working for us.

*The CSO 36 upgrade is part of DC Water’s Clean Rivers Project.   Go to for updates.

**A report on how DC can lower system burden by greenrooves and trees is Casey Trees, Limnotech WASA (2008)



Thanks to the Casey Trees staff for this imaginative choice and arranging to plant on this site.

Thanks to Church of the Pilgrims, especially Ashley Goff, for maintaining these and other new trees near the church.

Welcome to Restore Mass Ave’s Tree Care Blog


ABOUT US: Restore Mass Ave is an alliance of residents, foreign missions, arborists and non-profit groups working to rebuild the tree canopy and historic landscape that made Massachusetts Avenue a world attraction in the early 20th century. Through outreach and education we attract participation by owners of property, one third of whom are foreign missions. We spread the teaching of experts to those in community and train volunteer Treekeepers. We aspire to be a model for creating green neighborhoods elsewhere.

We are a 501 (c) 3, supported by financial donations from the community and in-kind donations from service providers and nurseries. Casey Trees is an important partner for additions of new trees. The National Trust for Historic Preservation supports our Historic Landscape educational brochure and planting guide.

Above: Green lines show the streets we're trying to restore. (Photo:

We work closely with city and federal agencies such as the DC Department of Transportation Urban Forestry Administration, the DC Historic Preservation Review Board, and the Department of State.

The federal Historic Landmark and Historic Preservation Act of 1978 protects buildings and greenscape in our area, which falls in the Dupont Circle Historic District, the Sheridan-Kalorama Historic District and the Massachusetts Avenue Historic District. Trees on public and private land are protected by the DC Urban Forest Preservation Act.

Trees planted through Restore Mass Ave count towards UNEP’s Billion Tree Campaign which aims to add seven billion trees worldwide by the end of 2009. From Nairobi, Kenya, UNEP wrote “we endorse your undertakings.” The campaign’s Album even contains an article on our work!