The day after the Aug. 10 derecho, Gina Reynolds, manager of Fleming Nursery in Cedar Rapids, began fielding calls about leaning and broken trees. For the first couple of weeks, people asked her about saving their damaged trees.
“After that, it went into, ‘How soon can we get a tree?’” Reynolds said.
Most people asked about replacing what they lost with the same type of tree, often for sentimental reasons. Some wanted a different kind of tree, so they won’t experience a tree falling on their house again.
“Others want the biggest tree money can buy — instant shade,” Reynolds said.
Other nurseries experienced a frenzy in activity as well.
Frazier Nursery, a full-service tree nursery in Vinton, had a busy fall lined up even before the derecho damaged or destroyed thousands of trees.
“It took about a week for the phone to start ringing — and then it didn’t stop,” said Alex Frazier.
Most customers ask what’s the largest tree they can afford, the fastest growing, and what will give them good fall color, Frazier said. But he and other tree experts said there’s a lot more people should consider when replacing those lost trees.
Evaluate trees for damage
The first thing property owners should do is thoroughly examine the trees on their property, said Cedar Rapids city arborist Todd Fagan.
“Look up into the tree canopy for broken or dead limbs and check for signs that indicate that a tree may be in distress,” Fagan said. “Trees that have survived the storm could still have structural damage that will affect their ability to survive.”
The City of Cedar Rapids has estimated more than half of the city’s tree canopy was affected by the derecho storm. The city continues to receive calls about removing hazardous public trees and is prioritizing requests based on the risk each tree poses, said Fagan.
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City crews are evaluating trees on the public right of way and other public land, but not those on private property. Fagan recommended homeowners hire a certified arborist to assess trees and determine their long-term viability.
Mike Cimprich, the City of Marion arborist, agreed.
“I think any time a homeowner has a tree concern, an arborist is a great idea,” Cimprich said.
He puts the preliminary estimate of Marion’s tree loss at about 35 percent but expects that percentage to change every six months or so based on the response of damaged trees to the weather.
Hire a certified arborist
Many people need to hire a certified arborist to do an on-site evaluation, but that could mean months of waiting because there are thousands of people calling tree experts, said Patty Reisinger, certified arborist.
She’s a field coordinator and membership steward with the nonprofit environmental group Trees Forever. Her job usually involves community planning and tree planting, prairie planting training and volunteer coordination in northeast Iowa. But since the derecho, Trees Forever has been fielding calls from its members and local homeowners. Most ask about repair or removal of damaged trees.
“There’s a lot of triage that has to happen,” Reisinger said.
A certified arborist may be called upon for advice throughout a tree’s life cycle. When a tree is young, an arborist can ensure the proper form and structure of the tree. Later, an arborist might be called to properly remove broken limbs or handle off-the-ground work when a bucket truck is needed. As a tree ages and becomes hazardous, an arborist can be consulted for safe removal.
An arborist may be able to offer advice to homeowners over the phone or via email when photos are attached, Reisinger said. She said there are many considerations to determine if a tree is salvageable:
• What kind of damage the tree has sustained
• Where the damage is on the tree
• The tree species
• The history of the site
• What’s around the tree
• Whether the site will be disturbed in the future
Generally, if the green canopy is gone, most likely, the tree needs to be removed because recovery is uncertain, Reisinger said.
That can be difficult to hear. Most of the people she’s talked to are feeling an emotional loss over a downed or damaged tree. The loss of a slow-growing, older tree is particularly devastating because the person knows a replacement won’t grow to its pre-derecho size in the property owner’s lifetime.
Plan for the future
Peter Gasper knows about planting trees: he’s been planting trees for about 42 years. His team at Blooms & Bladeworks in Marion plants between 3,000 and 4,000 in an average year, on residential, commercial and municipal-owned properties.
“There are a lot of things to consider,” Gasper said.
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When he talks to property owners, he finds it important to understand what a person wants from their tree, what they hope to accomplish in terms of size, and if it makes sense to place a tree there.
When considering tree replacement, homeowners should:
• Rethink the use of the yard and the roles trees play
• Year-round color (evergreens)
• Fall color
• Spring color (ornamentals)
• Sentimental replacement
• Plan for the trees for maximum height and width
• Consider tree diversity
Cost to replace
Another consideration may be cost. Many homeowners have learned the hard way after the derecho that removing or salvaging most trees isn’t covered by their homeowner’s or other insurance. Added to that is the cost of replacing downed trees.
A tree is a long-term investment. The cost of a tree depends on the type and size, the time in the ground and the effort to dig. Growers price trees based on the size in caliper inches, that is, how big around the trunks is a few feet above the ground. The bigger the tree, the more time the grower has invested in the tree.
Most trees that Fleming Nursery sells are in the 2 inch caliper range and are 8 to 10 feet tall. Prices range from about $175 for younger trees to $375 for taller, thicker maples, Reynolds said. Ornamental trees, such as crabapples, will be smaller.
Some nurseries have equipment that allows them to dig up deeper trees. Blooms & Bladeworks can dig up a 4-inch or 5-inch caliper tree, but it will cost $1,000, said owner Peter Gasper.
“You can go to a big box store and buy a tree for $50 that looks like a twig,” Gasper said. “But a 4- to 5-inch tree, which will take a lot of soil, a big root ball, and has to be staked — well, it’s going to take more effort.”
The right tree in the right place
Arborists have a mantra for replanting: Right place, right tree, said Cimprich. Many trees will fit a site at the time of planting, but over decades, a tree will conflict with what’s above it and around it, he said.
“If you’ve got a tree that’s going to be a hundred feet tall, you need to consider what will be over it,” Cimprich said.
The right place also means making sure the site is ready for another tree. Arborist Reisinger said homeowners should consider the safe removal of a dead or damaged tree and whether homeowners plan on-site construction that will require trucks or equipment near the planting site.
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It can be difficult to replant in the same spot. Logistics are a factor: you can’t dig a hole for a new tree because the old stump and roots are still there, Frazier said. And decomposing trunks and roots need nitrogen to break down, depleting nitrogen available for the new tree.
“I think what people are going to have to do to plant a tree in the same spot is bring in soil to replace the stump grindings before planting,” Frazier said. “I’ve been telling customers we’ll try about 10 feet from where the tree was.”
Consider tree diversity
Diversity is the key to receiving the most benefits from trees. Look around the neighborhood before selecting a replacement tree: most common trees have been overplanted.
Tree experts preach diversification of species for a very specific reason: “We haven’t known a bug or specific disease that has taken more than one type of trees,” Gasper said.
In the 1950s and 1960s, elms were decimated. Then there was oak wilt that killed white oak, the needle cast fungus that attacked blue spruce and white moth that killed white pines, Gasper said. Now the emerald ash borer working its way through ash trees in Iowa and elsewhere.
“We need a diverse urban forest that is better able to resist pests and diseases and has the best chance for good growth and long-term survival,” Cedar Rapids’ Fagan said. He encourages residents to take their time when considering replanting.
Everyone wants a maple because they grow fast and have fall color, said Frazier.
“If we just say yes to every maple call, that’s great. But if a disease comes, then we’d have all our eggs in one basket. We have learned that the hard way,” Frazier said. He appreciates native species, the trees that have been in Iowa for a long time and hardwoods.
“Oak, locust, hackberry — these are all nice trees with modern cultivars,” Frazier said.
Fruit and nut trees also should be considered. Walnut, chestnut and hazelnut trees are popular because they provide nuts and get huge, Frazier said. Apple, pear, peach, plum, and cherry trees provide fruit. By design, these trees are bred to be smaller so that it’s easier to harvest. Most apple orchards in the area have semi-dwarf trees for that reason, Frazier said.
Reisinger’s biggest concern is that people won’t replace slow-growing, large trees.
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“That’s a shortsighted response,” she said. “How would Cedar Rapids look if nobody had replaced the American elm when they died in the ’50s and ’60s?” she said. “We hope people will plan for the future.”
To view a wide variety of trees, seek out a tree nursery that plants and sells a wide variety of trees. Another good option is to visit an arboretum such as Morgan Creek Park in Linn County, Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, or Iowa Arboretum in Boone County. Trees are labeled with plaques or signs; if you see one you like, research whether it will work in your yard.
When to plant and caring for a new tree
September through early October is the perfect time to plant evergreens. Mid-October to late October, when shade and ornamental trees show signs of dormancy such as changes in leaf color, can be ideal for planting those trees.
“A tree is an investment. Be willing to take care of it after you purchase it. It’s not something you can put into the ground and expect to thrive,” Reynolds said. “It’s a responsibility.”
Irrigation systems only wet the first two to three inches of soil, Gasper said. To develop healthy, deep roots, a tree must be watered more deeply.
If Mother Nature provides at least an inch of rain a week, she’s doing her job, Gasper said. If not, he recommends the following 2 1/2 inches of water per caliper inch. Water trees around the root base rather than all in one spot.
During the first week after planting, if the temperature goes above 80 degrees, give the tree 50 percent more water, Gasper said.
Newly planted trees should be staked and mulched properly to help them establish a strong trunk and root system. Ask tree nursery or garden center staff about the best way to support and mulch the tree you bought.
Gasper also recommends a tree wrap in the fall. If deer are a problem, use a white corrugated piece of plastic to protect the tree.
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“Deer love to rub trees to get the velvet off their antlers. If a tree is less than 5 inches in diameter, it will be a target,” Gasper said.
Fall weather can be unpredictable. Because Gasper is concerned about how weather changes can affect newly planted trees, his team puts info on Facebook that’s relevant to current conditions and the needs of trees. Watch for it.
“If they choose to listen to us, then most of those people are going to be successful in what they are trying to accomplish,” Gasper said.
Do your research Before picking up that shovel
It is prime tree planting time and many people don’t want to wait another minute before replacing those beloved trees that they lost in the Aug. 10 derecho. But before you start digging, take some time to do a little research. Know what you can plant and where since cities have some restrictions on what you plant and where.
City of Cedar Rapids: Right of Way Planting
Applicants must file a nine-page form, Application for Public Right of Way (ROW) Permit, with the Public Works Department. Right of way refers to the area between the property line and the street. Property owners doing the work themselves must provide proof of homeowner’s insurance.
New right of way and parking lot trees must be shade trees whenever possible, preferably those native to Iowa and the Midwest (climate zone 4 and 5). The city provides a list of trees that are acceptable.
The city website has information about permits, planting, types of trees permitted and more at cedar-rapids.org/residents/parks_and_recreation/forestry.php
City of Marion: Right of Way Planting
The City of Marion encourages planting of trees in the public right of way. There is no permit fee. The city arborist will inspect the site before approval. Property owners must contact Iowa One Call at least 48 hours before digging. The city provides a three-page list of trees that can be planted in the right of way and four pages of trees that cannot be planted there at cityofmarion.org/recreation/parks-recreation/parks/urban-forest-utility
Since its founding in 1989, Trees Forever staff and volunteers have helped to plant more than 3 million trees and shrubs throughout Iowa and Illinois. The environmental nonprofit organization, headquartered in Marion, is committed to connecting people to the environment through the planting and care of trees, prairie and other natural areas. It offers the following resources for people who want to plant a tree.
Online videos (treesforever.org/videos) include:
• “How to Plant a Container-Grown Tree”
• “Choosing Diversity and Great Fall Color”
• “Planting Trees for Energy Efficiency”
Print materials include PDFs on topics such as:
• “Residential Tree Planting Guide”
• “Selecting Tree Species”
• “Tree Care Guide”
Since the Aug. 10 derecho, a number of fundraisers have been created to help replace the trees that were lost in the storm. Here are just a few of them.
Feed Iowa First, Frazier Nursery and Lion Bridge Brewing Co. are collaborating on a tree sale. Trees for sale include evergreen, shade and flowering ornamental trees. For every tree purchased online, ReGreen CR will give a fruit tree to the nonprofit Feed Iowa First to grow and provide fresh produce for people in need. Tree pickup date is Sept. 30.
Learn more at regreencr.com.
Trees Forever is accepting donations to restore trees lost in the derecho. The goal is to raise $5 million. Trees will be planted in public areas and homeowners will be able to adopt, for a small co-payment, landscape quality trees. Learn more at treesforever.org.
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