A planting project in Detroit goes from green to brown

By John Gallagher
Detroit, MI (September 7, 2010)- Efforts to green Detroit may be tougher to accomplish than many people hoped, if one recent project is an indication. Last fall and this spring, the nonprofit Greening of Detroit planted about 500 shade trees along East Jefferson Avenue from downtown to the Grosse Pointe Park border. The plantings were paid for by a $275,000 gift from the Cotton family of Grosse Pointe, which owns the Health Plan of Michigan.

But large numbers of the newly planted trees have died off. Greening of Detroit normally loses 5% to 7% of new trees within a year of planting, but the die-off rate for the Jefferson project is approaching 20%, said Paul Bairley, head of tree-planting efforts for the Greening of Detroit. The reasons include poor soil quality in some spots, planting some varieties too late in the year, and the dire effects of road salt and other environmental conditions.
In one case, a tree disappeared because of apparent theft, for there was nothing but a big hole in the ground where a tree had been the day before. “Somebody wanted that tree pretty badly,” Bairley said. Greening of Detroit plans to replace all the dead or dying trees, and in some cases may switch the varieties to a hardier stock. Greening also is talking with its supplier over what Bairley said were some poorer-quality supplies.
Andrew Bell, the curator of woody plants for the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Ill., said high mortality rates are common in urban reforestation projects, especially for trees planted along busy urban streets like East Jefferson. Such trees are subject to road salt, vandalism, and drying out for lack of watering. He said mortality rates of up to 40% are not uncommon. “I really don’t think 20% is too bad,” Bell said. “Of course, if you’re the one planting the trees and you’re a nonprofit with limited resources, you don’t want any mortality.”
Bairley acknowledged the challenges, but said Greening of Detroit intends to see the project through to a successful conclusion. “We’re fully committed,” he said. “Ten to 20% mortality, that’s way too high for my liking. But we’re here for the long haul, and we want people to know that we’re here for the long haul.”
Related Resources:
Detroit Free Press- A planting project in Detroit goes from green to brown
The Greening of Detroit