By Harry Jaffe
Washington, DC (August 7, 2007)- Don’t believe the weathermen or women when they say it’s about to rain. Sure, some of us got a sprinkle Sunday night. Then we went back to hazy, hot, humid- and very, very dry. Here in the city, our communal crop is trees, and they are suffering.
It’s time to get out our buckets and our hoses, check the neighborhood for newly planted saplings and drench them. Every day, if possible. This is Betsy Cavendish’s approach. She and her neighbors around Pinehurst Circle, along the D.C. and Maryland line, have organized what Cavendish calls “a hardy band of waterers.”
Cavendish is an original member of the PT Cruisers, a group of environmentalists organized by Beth Mullin around the Pinehurst Tributary of Rock Creek. Concerned about the declining health of their little creek – the trash in the water and the vines choking its banks – they organized the Cruisers to act very locally. They pick up the trash and whack back the vines
But how could they stabilize the stream banks and stop erosion?
Enter the Casey Tree Endowment Fund, established by philanthropist Betsy Casey to plant and care for D.C. trees. The Cruisers applied to Casey Trees for a grant to plant trees. Casey approved their request. On April 16, 400 volunteers turned out to plant 70 trees along Alberfoyle Road, Beach Drive, Western Avenue and Pinehurst Circle.
In July, Cavendish and Mullin saw 70 thirsty river birches and redbuds and blackgums and American Hornbeams, not to mention the oaks. Out went the emails and the phone calls. Volunteers hauled buckets and aimed hoses. Cavendish made her “wheeled watering device” available. Judy Moy took a 46-gallon trash barrel to Pinehurst Circle.
“By and large our trees are thriving,” she says.
Not so for the trees planted by the city’s Urban Forestry Administration. The city plants about 4,000 trees a year, but many of them are dying for lack of water. Says Cavendish: “A lot of the trees recently planted by the city are faring much worse than our trees.”
Which is why the Department of Transportation is about to start a campaign – backed by spiffy billboards- to ask residents to water young saplings.
Casey Trees takes a more targeted approach. It partners with elementary schools such as Murch and Janey, or churches such as St. Sophia’s on Massachusetts Avenue or Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist across the Anacostia River, to plant trees. “They are pretty much responsible for watering the trees,” says Milan Davis, manager of Casey’s field operations. “They do a fantastic job. We are out watering every day, too.”
Davis tells me new trees need 40 gallons of water a week. In this summer’s heat and drought, watering trees is a matter of life and death. Adopt one tree. Water it well. Watch it thrive. Feel better about life.