By Melissa O'Brien
Every year, PHS’s Tree Tenders program works with volunteer-based community groups to plant and care for thousands of trees throughout the Greater Philadelphia region. For over two decades, PHS has coordinated two community tree plantings per year with funding from partners like the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) — one in the fall and another in the spring. Thanks to more than 80 local Tree Tender groups and thousands of volunteers, the importance of tree canopy is becoming more of a priority in our region, and the health and well-being of Philly’s neighborhoods are improving as a result.
Research has shown that tree canopy reduces surface temperatures, cooling neighborhoods up to 10 degrees by shading homes and releasing water vapor into the air. PHS is committed to increasing the canopy level of our region, especially in neighborhoods with few trees and high average temperatures.
There are many benefits of participating in a community tree planting. “You can learn new skills in helping to protect one of the most valuable resources we have for managing climate change — trees,” says Mindy Maslin, PHS Tree Tenders Program Manager and program founder. “The more trees we plant in neighborhoods, the healthier those specific neighborhoods are and the healthier our overall city is.”
"Our plantings are less than half the cost of having a contractor come in and plant, and they're planted with love, so they tend to do much better." -Mindy Maslin
Each fall and spring, over 1,000 bare-root trees (trees that were dug at the nursery without any soil around their roots) are delivered to Philadelphia in trucks. Bare-root trees are used because they are healthier, have almost a 200% increase in their root system than ball and burlap trees, and don’t suffer from the same problems as many container trees. “They’re also more volunteer-friendly because bare-root trees weigh about 30 pounds as opposed to 300 with a comparably sized tree,” says Mindy.
This November, 1,350 street trees will be delivered and planted in 80 neighborhoods over the course of just one weekend! Volunteers help unload the trucks, sort the trees to go out to various neighborhoods, and plant them – a busy weekend for all involved.
Mindy says: “The amazing part of doing this kind of planting with all volunteers is that it's cost-effective. Our plantings are less than half the cost of having a contractor come in and plant, and they're planted with love, so they tend to do much better. They’re also planted in communities where the neighbors are watching and sometimes working alongside the PHS volunteers. So, we plant in November and in April, then in August we go back out with our tree checker program and we do a little bit more homeowner education.”
Thanks to this follow-up process, the trees planted via the Tree Tenders groups have roughly a 94% survival rate after the first year. Rather than holding a one-time tree planting in a specific location, PHS encourages people to work in their own neighborhoods throughout the year. Mindy says, “By working in their own neighborhoods, not only are people increasing the tree cover but they're increasing the communication and the sense of community, which is a big PHS goal.”
Volunteers can sign up to take part in a tree planting on VolunteerHub. A map of all the tree planting sites makes it easy to find one near you. No experience or tools are required to participate, and the planting timeframe is about 3 hours. Mindy says:
“When they get to the planting, volunteers will see a bunch of people gathering and the trees in plastic bags. The plastic bags hold the tree roots, which are dipped in a hydrogel that coats the roots and protects them while they're out of the ground. Then, they’ll be divided into a small group that will go off with maybe three to five trees to plant, and that group will have a leader who will demonstrate how to plant the tree correctly.”
The majority of volunteers help to dig, shovel, or spread mulch on the planted trees, but there is a job for people of all ability levels. “We need people to knock on the doors of the homeowners and tell them that we're there, help with photography, and provide refreshments for the other volunteers,” says Mindy. “There really is something for everyone.”
Mindy recommends dressing in layers, similar to how you would dress for a hike. Plantings happen rain or shine, so volunteers should dress for the weather and be prepared to get a little dirty. Volunteers should bring a hat for warmth or sun protection, plus sunscreen, a water bottle, hand sanitizer, and gloves. But PHS does make sure all necessary tools and supplies will be provided.
By taking part in a tree planting, you are helping to create healthier, more livable neighborhoods. Mindy has witnessed firsthand the transformative power of trees. She says:
“If there's a neighborhood that has trash on the ground that nobody is caring for, it's more apt to gather more trash. But if it's obvious that people care about the street — and tree planting is a sign of care — then it tends to bring on more positive behavior. People plant trees and then maybe they start putting out window boxes and potted plants on their steps.”
Another benefit of volunteering is that it’s a great way to make social connections with neighbors. At a planting in South Philadelphia a few years ago, Mindy recalls planting with two men who had lived across the street from each other for 10 years but had never gotten to know each other until then. “Imagine how that changes your connection with your community when you go out your front door and you can say hi to your neighbor across the street, know their name, know how many kids they have, and what their dog's name is because you've planted a tree with them," she says.
Planting trees has an immediate and long-term impact on neighborhoods by making them more beautiful, healthier, and safer places to live and enjoy. Get involved at one or more plantings in the future!