Proactive, Not Reactive: Evolving Elm Management in the Nation’s Capital

By Jessica R. Sanders, James W. Woodworth Jr., and Joesph E. Duszak

Washington, DC (November 25, 2013) – Washington D.C. is home to many historic elm corridors managed in close partnership between numerous urban forestry stakeholders. In recent years, the city’s elms have been used as part of streetscape revitalization initiatives due to their quick-growing nature. The use of a popular Ulmus americana cultivar, Princeton, has brought about notable challenges in urban tree management.

Fall-trees-along-ConstitutionAvenue-WashingtonDC-557PM-31Oct2013From the nursery to the tree box and even ten years later, these elms have required consistent attention in order to adequately train the form to achieve a sustainable canopy while minimizing structural defects.

Two such plantings are explored, both with hand-selected trees from the same stock and nursery. These serve to highlight the differences between traditional urban forestry plantings and those under constant and careful scrutiny.

In 2003, a major tree planting initiative took place in Washington D.C., introducing approximately 250 Princeton American elms to the city’s urban forest. All hand-selected from the same nursery, the elms have posed considerable challenges for urban tree maintenance in recent years. This Practitioners Note investigates the structural issues which began with nursery management, and highlights two divergent management strategies that reflect current issues facing D.C.’s elm population and urban forestry in general.

Ten years later, in March 2013, these same elms were examined to determine their overall success and health. A decade post-planting, these sites reveal both landmark growth in tree canopy, as well as severe structural defects and failures.

Results show that as planting initiatives continue to increase not only in Washington D.C., but across the country, a better understanding of plant selection and nursery stock is necessary. Even with the most proactive management strategies, an initial “bad stock” can never be completely corrected.

While a proactive strategy requires a notable monetary and labor-intensive investment, increased management through partnerships and collaborations can ultimately facilitate the long-term success of the urban forest. By involving the community, an otherwise unrealized partnership with the public can foster stewardship and ownership of street trees.

Read the full research article: “Proactive, Not Reactive: Evolving Elm Management in the Nation’s Capital