1700 trees in one weekend—kids, don’t try this at home



Holly and Daniel, dedicated tree volunteers.

What more incredible leap of faith could you ask for than to
plant a tree? This is what I am wondering after a weekend when I helped plant 20-plus trees along the streets of my Buffalo
neighborhood, as part of a region-wide effort to gradually replenish an urban and suburban canopy.

These chestnuts, gingkos, redbuds, serviceberries, and
crabapples from Schichtel's Nurseries (a local, but nationally well-regarded tree farm) are not going to be pampered by homeowners in private front or back
yards. They have to rough it in small streetside beds, where neighboring
businesses or residents may or may not even notice them, much less take care of
them. They may be used as bike racks, run over by cars, or even stolen. They’ll
be mulched and watered by volunteers, if we can find enough of them. If they do thrive and reach maturity, which for most will
take decades, it’s unlikely I’ll ever see them in their full glory (except maybe the crabapples). 

tree planting is a risky business, but despite all the negatives, I’ve found it’s
much easier to get volunteers for a tree planting than it is for any other
aspect of neighborhood beautification. Even more interesting, this is the one
that all the men sign up for. The muscle came in handy—we needed a pickaxe to
get rid of some obstacles in at least one of the planting sites—but I wish I
was as lucky with volunteers for our public flower beds, which provide ten
times the visual impact. Another funny thing—I found myself pleading with one
of my neighbors to take a smaller tree for his easeway bed. No. He had to have
a big tree, even though he’ll never see it fully grown.

It is a risky, funny, hopeful business. And we all felt
really good about ourselves afterwards—even when  faced with the scrawny results of
our efforts.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Kudo for you all for planting urban trees. I know that I appreciate the efforts of previous generations when they planted small, scrawny trees. Kudos also for planting a variety of trees and not just one species that could all be wiped out by one disease or pest.

    I just hope you kept in mind how large the trees would grow and the near by power lines. I’ve been watching local power companies butcher (prune) big trees in my area lately to hopefully prevent power losses this coming winter.

  2. Thank you so much for your important work. I found the stats about the volunteers interesting. Yes, I can see that men would sign up in bigger numbers for this one.

  3. Color me cynical, but as I am in the middle of raking season surrounded by too many blasted Norway maples, um, yay trees.

    One thing about streetside ginkgos, which are used here in Portland … they are monoecious. Females need to be pollinated by male trees, and if they bear fruit, hoo boy.

    When the fruits fall on the ground and get smashed (because nobody picks up after streetside trees) after a few days the sidewalk smells horrible (like vomit).

    I would seriously think three times about planting a ginkgo unless I knew it was a male tree.

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