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NeighborWoods, the city-supported street tree planting program that has distributed 13,000 trees during the past decade, will scale back on giving out new trees and focus more on tending to those already in the ground.
With fewer subdivisions being built amid the slow economy, NeighborWoods organizers said they are spending more time searching for new areas where they can offer trees.
The revised approach will put greater priority on pruning and maintaining trees that were planted since the program began in 2003, said Zach Manor, the city’s tree planting coordinator.
Trees are delivered for free to residents who agree to plant them along the street and provide water and mulch for two years. Seven of every 10 trees survive.
Under the new system, the program will continue to honor requests for trees and also conduct two major planting events each year. But Manor will no longer go door-to-door each year distributing leaflets that ask residents to accept trees – a responsibility that he says takes up time better spent on maintenance.
The program has met its goal of distributing 1,500 trees per year, but the task is getting more difficult. About 34 percent of residents contacted about the program accept the trees, Manor said.
“Would we like to give everybody 1,500 trees every year? Definitely,” he said. “We’d also like to make sure the trees we give away are productive.”
A greater emphasis on maintenance makes sense, said Mark Turner, chairman of the city’s parks board.
“I know of several NeighborWoods trees that did not thrive for whatever reason,” Turner said. “Having the opportunity to focus on keeping trees healthy should result in a better outcome.”
NeighborWoods is funded by a mix of grants, private donations, urban timber permit sales and corporate donations. Former Mayor Charles Meeker championed the program as part of the city’s efforts to protect and enhance its tree canopy. Trees improve air and water quality, help prevent stormwater runoff, and provide shade and pleasing aesthetics.
The rich canopy has long been a point of pride in Raleigh, known as the City of Oaks. But a 1990s development boom resulted in several thousand wooded acres clear-cut to make way for shopping centers and subdivisions.
The trees are planted in the city’s right of way, often the grassy area between the sidewalk and the street. The city has also planted 306 trees in parks, medians and greenways in the past year.
In a sense, Manor said, NeighborWoods is struggling to manage the results of its own success.
“We’re having trouble being able to maintain the trees,” Manor said. “We’ve been able to do it thus far, but as we add more, we’re going to be unable to keep up.”