The trees of Ypsilanti and how you can do your part to help them on Saturday

For the past several months, I’d been thinking about interviewing someone in City government about the trees that were planted along Cross Street as part of the recent $1 million streetscaping project. (I like trees.) For some reason, though, I’d kept putting it off until yesterday, when, in a fit of late night inspiration, I dashed off several questions to Ypsi City Planner, Teresa Gillotti. Well, I received her answers a few minutes ago, and I was just sitting here, thinking about how to introduce the subject of urban forestry, in a somewhat interesting way, when it occurred to me that it might be funny to say something like, “As Arbor Day is just four months off, I thought that I’d sit down with Teresa and ask her a few question about our local trees.” So, I got online, and did a quick search, in hopes of finding out how far away Arbor Day was. And, what I found was kind of eerie… Today, of all days, is actually Arbor Day in the state of Michigan… Cue Twilight Zone theme… (I wasn’t aware of it, but apparently every state celebrates Arbor Day at a different time. And, Michigan, it would seem, celebrates the holiday on the last Friday in April.) It’s a good thing that I’m not paranoid. If I were, I might think that, perhaps, I was being manipulated somehow by the trees that stare through my bedroom window at me each night, as site here, in my bed, working on this blog. (I’m tempted to google “trees control my thoughts,” but I’m afraid of what I might find.) Anyway, here’s my exchange with Teresa.

MARK: Can you tell me about the trees that were planted along Cross street earlier this year… how you chose the types, how many there are of each variety, and how we funded their planting?

TERESA: I don’t know much about tree selection – so I got help from local landscape architect Rachel Blistein, and a MDOT landscape architect out of Lansing, Jamie Nauta. We worked together on a list looking for salt-tolerant and drought-resistant varieties not necessarily commonly used in town, mainly to promote variety. Jamie worked out the placement of the trees, trying to be strategic so they wouldn’t block signage when they’re full grown in blocks with stores and restaurants, and providing larger species in the more residential areas.

We ended up with 4 types:
• Syringa Reticulata (Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac)
• Tilia Cordata (Greenspire Little Leaf Linden)
• Corylus Colurna (Turkish Filbert)
• Taxodium Distichum (Common Bald Cypress)

The entire streetscape project was funded with a transportation enhancement grant. It was a 60/40 split, with 60% of the funding coming from the federal government, and the 40% match coming from local sources. The Depot Town improvements (seatwall, stamped concrete crosswalks, rain gardens) had the 40% local match covered by the City and the DDA. The larger project was in West Cross – where the City and DDA had to provide only 20%, with MDOT covering the other 20% of the local match as it’s a trunk line west of Huron. That project included the bump outs, stamped crosswalks, the City’s first LED street lighting and 74 street trees.

MARK: And I believe, just a few days ago, volunteers got together to plant trees at what’s being called the Ypsi Tree Nursery. Those trees, as I understand it, are being planted at Water Street, and the intention is that they’ll be moved at some point to streets and parks around the City, right?

TERESA: Right. The project grew out of few things. First, DPS was looking to do an updated tree inventory and forestry plan, but didn’t have funding. We were looking at interim uses at Water Street to promote some minimal activity (the stone trail built from crushed concrete from the Water Street building demolition for example) to keep some life on the site, and to prevent it from being a literal dumping ground. We learned about a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant, and had the idea to ask for funding for the inventory, a forestry plan, and to set up a small tree nursery to grow street and park trees. The City doesn’t budget money for street tree replacement. It only happens from grants, like the Cross Street Streetscape, through DTE grants (every other year at best), and from residents adding them in themselves. So street tree replacement is down. We learned from the inventory that more than half of the City’s public trees or maturing or mature, so there’s a need to add to the stock.

So the volunteers were out last weekend along with Michigan Works youth/young adult program participants and we’ll be back this Saturday to plant the second half of the spring planting (total of 350). We’re planning on a similar number in the fall. So, we should have somewhere between 600-800 trees in the nursery by the end of the year.

MARK: Would I be right to assume that this work being done by volunteers is something that used to be done by the Public Works department?

TERESA: Yes. As I mentioned, they add trees when they obtain grants from DTE – and that’s around 30-40 during that year. I’m not sure what the previous levels were.

MARK: What’s the status of Ypsi’s tree stock? Are we making any progress getting rid of invasive species? Is there a master forestry plan of some kind? Are there big niches that need to be filled?

TERESA: Well – more than half of the public trees are some sort of maple (55.2%) and more than half are in fair condition (59%). There is a need for more diversity and for more young trees, to even out the average age in the City. And, thanks to this grant, we do have a new forestry plan.

I’m assuming that, with reference to the invasive species, you’re thinking more about things like tree of heaven and buckthorn growing in the parks? DPS trims a lot of this back, but I don’t think we have a specific strategy for combating this now.

MARK: We’ve talked on the site before about the guerrilla grafting movement, and the possibility of planting more fruit trees in Ypsi, in hopes that doing so might make us a little more self-sufficient, and encourage some folks, who otherwise might not do so, to eat better. As several people noted, however, fruit trees take some care, as rotting fruit attracts rodents and the like. I’m curious to know where you stand on this.

TERESA: I do like the idea of more fruit and nut trees, but I have to admit that I have little experience with them. As street trees, we have to consider whether the fruit might cause a hazard on sidewalks (smashed fruit can be slick, or sticky, or potentially clog drains). In parks, depending on the size of the fruit and nuts, it could also cause some serious wear on mowers. I’m sure there is a way to balance these issues. There are some fruit-bearing trees in the recommended street tree list as part of the forestry plan – but they are more in line with service berries, than something like crabapples.

MARK: I think people all know that trees are important, as they make the heat of summer less dangerous, clean our air, etc, but I’m wondering if there’s any research that would indicate that trees positively impact economic development. Are you aware of such studies?

TERESA: There are lots of studies about the benefits of street trees for all the reasons you mention. The Arbor Day Foundation has a bit of a hodge-podge collection of facts and figures with sources. There are lots of studies related to energy-savings, increase in property values (even vacant lots with trees have been shown to improve property values of neighboring properties). I definitely consider this project to be about economic development. There is the value of curb appeal in selling/buying properties, in attracting people to neighborhoods and business districts, and in increasing property values. The nursery is a way to try to cheaply grow our own stock for replacement so that with any potential changes in staffing levels, we can still provide new stock, either by having volunteers/neighbors using stock to plant on their streets, or incorporating this into the future streets projects, where contractors can have stock ready as part of any road project, for instance.

MARK: What non-volunteer resources do we currently have to deal with street trees? I’m thinking specifically about overly-mature trees around town that have dead and dying limbs hanging precariously over sidewalks and streets. Do we have the resources to deal with them?

TERESA: Yes. DPS does keep a budget to maintain (prune) and remove dead and dying trees. This spring they were able to catch up a bit, which you may have noticed. Without the snow they were able to focus on tree removals and pruning in parks and along streets. I noticed a lot myself in Riverside Park along the steps and in Peninsular Park as well. The DPS group seems to be doing a good job overall – one of their main measures is the number of downed branches after storms, and lately it’s been fairly minimal, which is good.

MARK: I conducted an Ypsi Exit Interview late last year with a fellow by the name of Casey Dixon. During the interview, he mentioned that there was an “evil tree” somewhere in Ypsilanti. Are you aware of this tree’s existence?

TERESA: I know not of the evil tree. But would like to see you produce a zine about it.

If you’ve been at all inspired by this interview, there’s an Ypsi Tree Nursery work day is this Saturday, April 29, from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM. The location is the old Gilbert Park, at the rear of the Water Street site. To get there, take South Park Street to the dead end, go over the curb, and follow the orange cones west along the river to the planting site. More information can be found on Facebook… Also, we’re in need of a handful of stewards, who can keep an eye on the nursery going forward, making sure that the trees grow straight, and that none of them turn evil. If you’re interested, just send me your contact information and I’ll pass it along to Teresa.

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  1. Anonymoous Mike
    Posted April 27, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    What, no one’s up at midnight on a Friday night, wanting to talk about trees?

  2. dragon
    Posted April 28, 2012 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    This happened in the spring of 07′ or 08′. I was hunting mushrooms (ramps and fiddle heads), in Parker Mill off Geddes.
    If you take the second trail east (with the bike parking) and look to the west when the trail turns south, you will see it (a gigantic oak). Anyways, I was finding all kinds of ramps and half free shrooms when I came across this film canister tucked among the roots. In it was a doobie cut in in half and a piece of paper with some coordinates. Not thinking any better I smoked one of the halves and put the rest back. After telling this story to my roommates, I was informed that this was a ‘geo-cache’?.
    So a few days later I went back and checked it out. It was still as I had left it. So I added a couple of 2mg. Zanax and wrote on the note to email xxx about the find.

    Four days later I received this. (from gmail)

    –Thanks asshole.

  3. Elf
    Posted April 28, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    I’d given up calling DPS about dead tree limbs hanging precariously over the sidewalks of Ypsi. Maybe I’ll give them another shot.

    Happy Arbor Day.

  4. Elf
    Posted April 28, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    And I think this most recent comment of Dragon’s goes a long way toward explaining the rest of the comments that he’s left on this site over the past year.

  5. Posted April 28, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Today also happens to be International Workers Memorial Day. A day to remember working folks killed and maimed by their job.


    so when planting a tree say a prayer in memory of our fallen brothers and sisters

  6. Eel
    Posted April 28, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    The most troubling thing about this post is the revelation that you write this blog in bed.

  7. Emma
    Posted April 28, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    How are these trees being irrigated?

  8. x
    Posted April 28, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    the tree in front of Ugly Mud wasn’t planted right and is falling out of hole and dying. Perhaps the contractors can come back and replace it.

  9. Posted April 28, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Regarding the economic development impacts:

    * Donovan and Butry (2010) (pdf) used hedonic price modeling on a sample of 3,500 home sales in Portland to find that street trees added an average of $8,870 to the sale price of homes they fronted, and additional value to homes within 100 feet. (About a 3% difference in mean sale price.)

    * Donovan and Butry (2011) (pdf) then applied a hedonic model to a sample of 1000 single-family rental homes to find that street trees added an average of $21/month to going rental rates (1.6% of the mean rental rate)

    Wolf (2005) (pdf) found that if a small city’s “main street” business district had a streetscape including trees, customers were willing to travel from further away, stay longer, visit more frequently, and pay more for parking than in a similar business district without trees. (The study also notes that customers are willing to spend 9%-12% more for goods in a shopping district with trees, though that finding was based on districts in larger cities, population 250k+, and apparently was not tested for the “small city”, population 10k-20k, category.)

    There’s a ton of work on the benefits of urban trees in reducing the load on stormwater infrastructure — and therefore the costs of providing it. However, since Ypsi generally already has all of its stormwater infrastructure, these direct fiscal benefits are likely less significant here.

    McPherson and Muchnick (2005) (pdf) use pavement condition and maintenance records from Modesto, CA, to suggest that a strong street tree canopy can reduce street maintenance costs by up to 58% by reducing the deterioration of pavement from sun/heat. (Results might be less significant around here, where we get a little less sunshine than Modesto…)

    This 2006 piece by Dan Burden (hosted on Michigan DNR’s website) (pdf), proposes that, “For a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first 3 years of maintenance) a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree” and then summarizes various benefits. It is not a “scientific” piece like the others I’ve noted, and does not specifically cite its sources–it was by googling bits out of this that I found the actual Wolf and McPherson papers, though, so at least those findings have some backing.

  10. Eel
    Posted April 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    The thing falling over in front of the Ugly Mug isn’t a greet. It’s Patrick Elkins.

  11. Knox
    Posted April 28, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Teresa, and Murph.

    I have one question.

    I get that we need varieties that thrive in salt, as we salt the hell out of the roads during most winters, but are there no varieties indigenous to Michigan that would be up to that task? I’m not a local tree Nazi, and I’m not suggesting that anyone screwed up by choosing these species listed above for our street trees, but I’d curious to know if more traditionally “Michigan” varieties were considered, and, if so, why they were decided against.

  12. Posted April 28, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Spent a couple hours out there this morning planting. Had a blast, met some people and got to eat a couple donuts. Many thanks to Teresa for organizing this and for chatting with Mark about this.


    There were two indigenous species going in, I don’t remember what they were. One was some sort of oak, I think it was white oak. There were also several species indigenous to the Ohio/Indiana/Illinois region which have been brought north into MI.

  13. Posted April 28, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    I really encourage people to check out the forestry plan and inventory. I attended a presentation Teresa did about the plantings along West Cross. I believe both the little leaf linden and the bald cypress are native species.

    One thing I thought was intriguing about the tree nursery in Water Street is that volunteers are encouraged to donate trees. Since I, along with Mark, am interested in adding in more fruit and nut bearing trees, I’m going to buy some from Oikos Tree Crops in Kalamazoo. Their specialty is native Michigan trees. Some you can get in the form of seeds and/or small 12″ and larger plants. They carry oaks with sweet nuts, chestnuts, paw-paws, persimmons, juneberries and pecans (and many more), all from Michigan seed sources.

    I’m going to raise em up a little bit and then donate them to the tree nursery. Others at the presentation said they were going to donate their blight-resistant American Elm seedlings and other healthy seedlings from their yards. I think this is an inspiring use of the Water Street property!

  14. dragon
    Posted April 28, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Why are you the way that you are? Honestly, every time I try to do something fun… or exciting, you make it *not* that way. I hate… so much about the things that you choose to be.

  15. Emma
    Posted April 29, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I just looked at these new trees and saw the first round of plantings previously. When I saw the first plantings they were very dry. Despite the rain yesterday, most of the trees there now also appear dry. Many are planted below the pale grey soil line with soil and or mulch covering the root flares. There is no sign of any irrigation system. For the people who attended the planting yesterday: Was the soil improved? Why are so many trees crooked? What is the plan to irrigate this space? I know that volunteers are doing the planting but if it continues like this these trees will not survive. For those of you wanting to donate trees, you might be better off just giving them to your neighbors right away, they will do better than being transplanted twice and there is no chance for them to be mis-managed. I hope this does not turn into Water Street Fiasco II.

  16. Posted April 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    There is a plan to possibly have irrigation from the Huron by means of a solar pump. Meanwhile we are getting rain again today. Probably not every tree will survive — the weak ones may die. This is true even for germination of seeds in the wild — many will die and the strong seedlings will survive. I think this use of the Water Street land for the public good can be nothing but a victory.

  17. Emma
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    The trees were not planted properly. If they are not brought up to the soil line, the dirt and mulch is not removed from the root flare, and they are not irrigated they will die. Just leaving them like this is not any type of victory. It is a waste of trees and time by people who had good intentions but did not do the most basic research to be certain their job was done properly. Go look at them, many were not even put into the ground straight.

  18. anonymous
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Emma, for waiting until they were planted before coming forward to share your considerable knowledge.

  19. Emma
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    I would’ve said something sooner but didn’t imagine anyone would take on this project without following the planting recommendations outlined in the City of Ypsilanti Urban Forestry Management Plan.
    This is just the irrigation section:
    Irrigation is the redistribution of water from other pooled sources including lakes, ponds, streams,
    retention basins, or wells. During spring, summer, and fall months, container-grown trees will require
    water on a daily basis. When rainfall is insufficient, irrigation will be needed. The nursery stock may
    require 1 to 2 inches of water per week. Generally, 27,000 gallons of water will cover 1 acre with 1 inch of
    water (UMass Extension, 2009).
    All pot-in-pot stock should be drip irrigated. Davey suggests a cyclical irrigation system which delivers
    water more than once a day by dividing needed amount into timed intervals (Southern Nurserymen’s
    Association Publication, 1997). Ypsilanti should consult with a knowledgeable professional when
    designing and installing this system.
    Drip irrigation will require regular maintenance. Drip emitters are prone to damage by animals and
    clogging. Drip irrigation will require very clean water free from seeds, sediments, and minerals.”
    I don’t want the trees to die. There is no need to attack the messenger.

  20. Teresa
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to miss this thread. But let me try to catch up on some of these questions

    The maintenance contract on street trees on West cross street is two years – the two that died will be replaced as part of the contract.

    Of the 5 hardwood trees planted in the street tree nursery, two are natives.
    *Shagbark Hickory (parks)
    *Hackberry (street tree) – native
    *Red Oak (street tree)
    *White Oak (street tree) – native
    *Tulip Tree (street tree)
    *Scarlett Oak (street tree)

    @Emma We definitely got better each work day with our plantings, as you can probably tell. We have some compost on site to fill in holes where the trees weren’t planted deep enough, and we are yet to mulch them in.

    Irrigation will be coming in the next few weeks. The plan is to use a solar-powered pump to pull and push river water to a drip irrigation system featuring an emitter at each tree.

    I’ve been pretty grateful for the rain, but know that it’s not finished yet. We’ll be out this Saturday to plant the last 50 trees, and go back and make sure the previously planted ones have enough soil and are looking good before mulching.

    If anyone’s up for it – stop by Saturday May 5 between 8:30 and 1p.m. Thanks!

  21. Emma
    Posted May 6, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Thanks Teresa!

  22. Anonymous Mike
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone know how these trees are doing, given the heat, and the lack of rain? Is someone watering them? I was driving by Water Street yesterday and it occurred to me that they might be dead.

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  1. By 1,000 seed bombs for Water Street! on March 31, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    […] folks will be gathering on Water Street on April 19 and 20 to plant 500 trees as part of the Ypsi Tree Farm initiative I told you about last April.] This entry was posted in Special Projects, Uncategorized, […]

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