Putting Down Roots

Putting Down Roots

Having planted its 10,000th tree in May, the Urban Resources Initiative recently planted two more, right on my block.

I’d requested a free tree​​ back in the spring. A staff member then checked out the site and contacted me about the planting schedule as well as my tree preference. Rather than choosing something specific from URI’s long list of offerings, I asked for one that flowers in the spring and provides food for birds and other critters. One sunny morning last week, the tree—an Autumn Splendor buckeye—and the work crew arrived.

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Actually, an entire morning’s worth of trees, including one requested by a neighbor, showed up in the back of a pickup. Providing the manpower and practical know-how were men from EMERGE Connecticut, a nonprofit “committed to assisting formerly incarcerated people successfully integrate back into their families and communities,” and URI student employee Josh DeAnda.

Supervisor Ra Hashim with Jawaun White and DeAnda cleaned off the root ball, then rolled and hefted the tree from the truck onto a specially shaped dolly. Meanwhile, Nikai White and Prince Alexander conferred with Will Tisdale, an EMERGE board member and leader of the tree planting crews. After measuring and marking, the digging began.

The dirt was tossed onto a tarp and mixed with richer soil while sod clumps were ringed around the pit’s edge. Hashim sliced open the burlap around the root ball to show me the flare, where the large topmost roots meet the trunk of the tree. The height of the flare, which should be exposed in order to absorb oxygen for the tree, was marked on a pole that was then used to gauge the proper depth for the hole.

After rolling the buckeye into its newly dug spot, the team positioned the tree so that its longest branches spread over the grass rather than the sidewalk or street. The wire, rope and burlap holding the root ball were cut away and removed, easing the way for roots to spread. All the dirt was filled back in or heaped, donut-shaped, around the base of the tree and covered with mulch. Five five-gallon buckets of water were then poured into the donut, and two stakes were pounded into the ground near the street, to protect the buckeye from vehicle doors accidentally opening into its trunk.

Tisdale made sure I had information about watering, and the tree was tagged so curious pedestrians could learn about both the tree and URI. After pausing for photos and admiring the Autumn Splendor buckeye in its new home, the crew headed off to their next stop of the morning, down the street to plant a hawthorn—another welcome addition to New Haven’s neighborhoods.

Written and photographed by Heather Jessen.

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