Stately silver maples are out. They cause problems. In their place, Schenectady is getting a new breed of elm trees, and serviceberrys, which are more amenable to city life.
On Saturday, 18 volunteers helped plant nine trees on Elbert Street, part of ReTree Schenectady’s annual spring effort. They worked Friday also, recognizing Arbor Day.
Betsy Henry, group president, said a few trees were also planted at other locations including in the Central State Street and Bellevue neighborhoods.
“We called those our miscellaneous sites — a tree here, a tree there. In some cases we were replacing a tree that didn’t make it from the last season’s planting,” she said.
The nonprofit group is dedicated to planting new trees in the neighborhoods to replace older ones that have died or been removed. Last year ReTree Schenectady planted about 150 small trees in the neighborhoods and about 30 larger trees in parks and medians in the city.
This year the group only plans to plant 50 small trees, which can cost as much as $250 each.
Henry said the cutback is due to ReTree Schenectady losing its annual funding from the city of Schenectady, which gave the group $12,000 last year. She said for about the last 10 years ReTree Schenectady has used the city funding to front the money to buy trees and plant them.
ReTree Schenectady has other funding streams, like private donations, but most of the other funding involves reimbursement of costs after the planting. ReTree gets about $7,000 annually from a reimbursement program from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and they get $50 from National Grid every time they plant a tree species that isn’t likely to grow branches into utility lines.
On Elbert Street Saturday, volunteers planted serviceberry trees on one side of the street and elms on the other.
“The elm trees are really exciting because the Dutch elm disease basically decimated elm tree populations all over the U.S., but now the tree nurseries are developing these resistant trees, so we’ve been planting several of those over the last year or so,” Henry said.
The group only plants tree species recommended by Cornell University’s Urban Horticulture Institute. Cornell no longer recommends certain trees such as the silver maples planted in Schenectady decades ago. These have long been among the signature aesthetics of the Electric City, but have also proven problematic.
“The really huge trees you see in Schenectady are the silver maples. They have very shallow root systems, which can cause sidewalks to buckle, and brittle branches that will fall down. Schenectady has lost a lot of the silver maples over the last 10 to 15 years from ice storms and wind,” she said. “They are at the tail end of their lifespan right now and a lot of them should really be taken down, but that’s controversial because people really love those trees and love having a big tree in their neighborhood, which is right, but at some point some tough decisions are going to have to be made.”
Planting is done on the “tree lawn” area between streets and sidewalks, provided the area is at least 3 feet wide so it can properly support the tree. If not, sometimes they are planted in a homeowner’s front yard. The tree lawns are owned by the city but maintained by property owners.
Henry said her group is still hoping to solicit some funding from the city to expand its work. She said individuals who wish to donate should write checks made out to ReTree Schenectady and send them to 1086 Morningside Ave., Schenectady, 12309.