By Russell McCulleyThere are people who tend to see the glass half empty. Then there are those like John Benton, who can survey storm-battered City Park and notice not what’s missing, but the greenery sprouting all over the place.
“People say, ‘oh, look at poor City Park,’” says Benton, president of Bayou Tree Service. “But it looks pretty good to me. Things are growing, the wildlife is back. I heard someone say they saw a wild boar on Roosevelt Mall.”
Benton, standing in a grove of trees his company planted near the park’s Casino building, sizes up a young live oak. The tree is one of thousands being planted around New Orleans—in parks, on neutral grounds and in backyards—in an effort to restore the city’s storm-ravaged canopy.
Granted, a lot of trees weathered Hurricane Katrina’s winds
and floodwaters fairly well. That’s something to consider when choosing a tree: not only a plant that grows well in South Louisiana, but one that can withstand, and even offer protection from, the occasional tropical storm.
The stately live oak is one of our most storm-resistant trees; it also acts as a good barrier against high winds for buildings.
Bald cypress holds its own against wind and salt-water intrusion. “Magnolias are good for wind resistance, too,” says Karen Blackburn, county agent for the Louisiana State University Ag Center’s Orleans and Jefferson Parish office. “Palms did really
well with the storm, and crepe myrtles aren’t so bad to use.”
Whatever tree you choose, experts say, placement is key. “The biggest problem I see is planting the wrong tree in the wrong location,” says Benton. “When you plant a tree, you have to visualize its mature size.” And you have to consider both what will happen above ground and below: Plant too close to power lines or buildings, and you may be forced to hack away part of the canopy if it encroaches on either. Keep in mind that the root system may extend as far as the branches above; if planted too close to a home, the roots could do damage to its foundation.
If you have space for a large tree, Benton says, the live oak is a good choice. “Each tree is different—it has its own personality,” he says. “Live oaks withstand wind better than any tree we have down here, and they actually protect people’s houses by acting as a windbreaker.”
Buying and Maintaining a Healthy Tree
Mid-winter, when there’s less chance of overwatering, is a good time to plant trees. Choose a tree with a straight and mostly unblemished trunk. It should have five or six “flares,” or pedestal roots, where the trunk meets the soil. The limbs should branch out perpendicular to the ground—a trunk that splits into two halves, or one with branches that compete in size with the trunk, will be weaker and more subject to breaks than a tree with a single trunk.
Most young trees will need to be anchored with cables or underground braces. But not too tightly: research shows that trees which are allowed to bend with the wind develop better resistance to strong air currents as they mature. For stronger, less damage-prone trees, prune regularly to keep the branches evenly spaced and trained to the central trunk.
There’s no need to alter the soil when planting a tree, says Blackburn, but winter is a good time to fertilize existing trees. And protect your trees as much as possible from the stresses of an urban environment: foot traffic, cars, lawn mowers and weed eaters can all cause damage to a tree’s roots and trunk.
Above all, get good advice from a reputable nursery, arborist or landscape architect. “It’s a big investment,” says Benton, noting that the 20-foot live oak outside City Park’s Casino cost $4,500. “And one where you don’t know you made a mistake until ten or 20 years down the line. So getting accurate information and advice is critical.”
Weathering the Storm
Top five trees commonly found in South Louisiana that are most resistant
Least Resistant to Breakage:
Most Flood Tolerant:
Least Flood Tolerant:
Most Resistant to Uprooting:
Least resistant to Uprooting:
Source: LSU AgCenter
Plant a Tree, Feel Good
The 2005 storm season wiped out much of the area’s canopy. The aftermath, when debris haulers and contractors used any available green space to park heavy trucks, and utility repair crews performed indiscriminate pruning to clear space around power lines, did further damage. But a joint effort between Parkway Partners of New Orleans, Friends of Jefferson the Beautiful and the Louisiana Urban Forestry Council is underway to help restore the area’s lush landscape by planting thousands
of trees throughout the neighboring parishes. Over the past year, “ReLeaf New Orleans”
has planted more than 600 trees along city streets and in neighborhood parks, says Parkway Partners executive director Jean Fahr. The group has targeted four corridors—Elysian Fields Avenue, Broad Street, Claiborne Avenue and St. Claude Avenue—for extensive replanting.
In Jefferson Parish, about 700 new trees have been planted on public land, with another 700 to be installed this month, says Louisiana Urban Forestry Council president Joe Baucum.
While professional arborists will be overseeing much of the planting, Fahr says, the public can help by donating money for trees and volunteering to help maintain public spaces that may be neglected during the region’s long recovery period. “People can adopt a neutral ground,” she says. “It’s important, while the city focuses on bigger things.”
Americorps, a national service program, is also involved in the “ReLeaf” program and is mobilizing volunteers. Duties include removal of dead plants and trees, preparation of the soil for replanting, transportation of trees to the site, planting the trees, filling in the soil, mulching and on-going maintenance. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Gene Sausse at 504/723-8868, or email him at GeneSausse@cox.net.
And remember, Arbor Day in Louisiana is Jan. 19—it’s the perfect excuse to plant a tree.