In Wellesley, Mass., the Park and Highway Division within the Public Works Department has the responsibility for planting new trees. Most of these new trees are planted on private property with public funds. State law allows communities to plant public trees between the sidewalk and 20 feet from the edge of the public way, and Wellesley adopted this as a policy. This setback practice results in healthier trees that grow better, faster, and live longer than trees planted next to the street curb. These trees receive less damage from exhaust fumes, road salt and car doors; their lower branches do not get hit by tall trucks; their upper branches do not grow into the utility wires; and their roots have plenty of good soil in which to grow. For the past several years Wellesley has set aside $25,000 each year for the planting of new trees. These funds are sufficient for planting an average of 300 trees.
The program begins in the autumn prior to the spring planting. The municipal arborist prepares a list of trees to be considered for the next season. The list contains a 50/50 mix of flowering trees and shade trees with one evergreen. Half the trees mature at a large size and the other half stay under 25 feet in height for planting in combination with large trees or on the side of the street where overhead wires could be a potential problem.
All the trees that are selected for planting each year are species known to do well in the urban Massachusetts environment. Also selected are new cultivars that have been bred to tolerate city conditions. The trees selected do not require very much maintenance; they are pest and disease resistant; the soils are matched to tree preference, which allows the roots to grow with a minimum of effort; and the trees are cold and heat resistant to ensure survival.
Once a plant list is prepared, it is sent to six to eight nurseries known to offer high-quality trees to obtain availability and pricing information. All the trees are to be quoted at 2-inch diameter or less and bare root, if possible. A minimum quantity of 10 trees is requested to take advantage of quantity discounts. Substitution of size and species or cultivar is allowed at this time only. The nurseries respond with what they can offer. Using this information, the list is revised according to size, price, species and quantity of available trees. The revised list is sent back to the nurseries for a final quote. Generally three to four nurseries are selected for specific trees. Upon return of the quotes, purchase orders are placed with each nursery. Since so many nurseries are involved, none of the orders exceed the $10,000 threshold above which the state requires competitive bidding. Therefore the timely and expensive bidding process is avoided.
The same process is undertaken for selecting tree-planting contractors. At least six to seven contractors known to be skilled and knowledgeable in planting techniques for bare root trees are sent quote sheets for planting a given number of trees at each of the sizes indicated on the list of trees selected. The contractors are asked to provide a unit price for each size tree. Again, because of the number of contractors and low costs per tree, none of the contractors exceed the bid limit. In situations in which the contractors quote the same price on the same size tree, both are awarded the contract and they split the number of plantings.
With this process completed in the autumn, the budget is set and the orders placed long before the spring rush, avoiding problems and disappointment with orders that are incomplete or not as desired.
Bidding versus quotes
On average, the $25,000 budget purchases 300 trees. The average quoted cost of $53 for each tree plus the average quoted cost of $30 to plant totals $83 per average bare root tree. The one year that bidding was used, only 75 trees could be purchased for the $25,000. The vendors doing the bidding required a fee for program management; and they specified expensive B&B trees, 2-inch-diameter minimum size, and union labor contractors to do the planting. Less than 10 trees of each species or cultivar were ordered. The average cost per tree in the ground was $333.
The Wellesley finance director decided that obtaining quotes to purchase different tree species or cultivars as separate items and the planting of different size trees as separate items — rather than bidding the entire package — did not violate the bidding laws. He was convinced of this once he saw how the available dollars planted so many more trees by quote than the bidding process would allow.
Since these trees are planted on private property, the Park and Highway Division cooperates with the homeowner to be sure the trees are planted in the right place. They also believe the homeowner should have a choice of what tree is planted in his or her yard, so the homeowner will develop pride in the tree and feel a part of the entire tree planting program. The program was developed with resident participation as a central goal, along with assurance that the investment in trees would not be wasted.
The program starts with a list of residents who have heard about the program and would like trees planted on their property. The residents on this waiting list get the first choice of trees each year. The second level of priority occurs along selected streets. Each year, the Tree Advisory Committee sets a priority of streets that should get new trees. These streets are then given to the Park and Highway Division, which conducts an inventory of the existing trees and selects locations where trees could possibly be planted. The Division prepares planting plans to indicate the potential planting sites.
Once the waiting list is finalized and the planting plans are accepted by the Tree Advisory Committee, the arborist contacts each homeowner to see if he or she is interested in having a tree planted in his or her front yard. If so, the arborist makes an appointment to visit with the homeowner a couple of months prior to the planting and works with the owners regarding tree selection and the front yard location for each new tree. The arborist brings a book of photographs and descriptions of each of the trees that will be available. This information helps the owner select trees with which they might not be familiar. The locations are marked on the lawn with stakes or spray paint. The locations and species are noted on the street tree plan.
When this process is complete, utilities are marked, and the trees are delivered to the central maintenance yard where they are stored in mulch and kept watered. When weather conditions are right, the planting contractors are notified to begin. Each day they take only those bare root trees needed for the day and plant their trees according to the planting plans. Close supervision is essential to be sure the trees are planted correctly. The tree roots are kept covered with wood chips or wet canvas on the delivery trucks, covered while the holes are being dug, and watered during and immediately after planting. Once the planting is complete, the trees are mulched, and a few days later the final inspection is made by the arborist. At this inspection, the homeowner is given a letter with the name of the tree and a description of the care the tree should receive.
The planting practice follows the most recent recommendations for tree planting techniques. All trees are maintained primarily with watering for two years (by the owner), pruning at planting time and three years later (by the arborist), and an optional fertilizer treatment after the roots are established. Wellesley’s research has shown that the tree survival rate is 98 percent after one year and 95 percent after five years. Tree removal records indicate that most of the trees on private property survive for 75 to 100 years, while those next to the street survive only 40 years on average.
The major drawback to this program is that it requires a considerable amount of time. The chart below illustrates the average amount of time necessary for the planting of 300 trees.
All of this effort indicates Wellesley’s commitment to its trees, its environment, and to improving the urban landscape within the community. In fact, the program is so popular with Wellesley residents that the Finance Committee continually asks the Park and Highway Division to accept more than the $25,000 each year, so more trees can be planted. However, the gesture is declined, because the arborist does not have the time to plant more trees. How many other municipal departments can make this statement?
* The planting list should vary every year to maintain proper diversification.
* Tree descriptions presented to homeowners should also have colored photos of all the trees being offered.
* After each tree selection, notes should be made on the plan and on a separate list to keep track of the number of trees by location.
* Each appointment averages one-half hour plus travel time in the beginning of the season, and one-half hour including travel time by the end of the season when there are fewer pre-ordered trees to describe.
* If locations are marked with spray paint, they have to be remarked every two to three weeks. Stakes last many more weeks but cannot be used if the ground is frozen when the tree selection is made.
* All contractors should be supervised to be sure they are planting the trees correctly, to be sure the trees are in the right location, to make adjustments to the planting locations if needed, and to answer any questions they may have.
* Close-out includes getting all the bills paid and preparing a tour map so all trees can be efficiently checked periodically during the summer months.
* The number of trees planted each year varies depending on the tree sizes and associated costs.
Len Phillips is the former superintendent of the Wellesley Park and Tree Division, and can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com