You’ve probably heard of the Bird Man of Alcatraz, but do you know The Tree Lady of Georgetown is one of your neighbors? That would be Betsy Emes, who for the last 17 years has not only chaired CAG’s Trees For Georgetown (TFG) committee but is as responsible as anybody for making Georgetown one of the greenest urban communities in the country.
- How is the work you do with TFG funded?
Almost all of our funding comes from our annual fundraiser in the fall. There are random donations throughout the year and a few more at the end of the year. DC does not contribute money. However, they do give us the permit to plant and install the fences. Of course, we have to follow government regulation. We do not have an annual budget. We plant as many trees as we can from the fundraiser’s profits.
- How many tree boxes are there in Georgetown? What conditions most threaten the well-being of the trees?
There are over 3,000 tree boxes in the approximately one square mile of historical Georgetown, which is our planting area. Between TFG and UFD (Urban Forestry Division, DDOT), we’ve just about filled every box. Of course, trees are constantly dying and need to be replaced.
Fortunately for Georgetown, we have no overhead powerlines and therefore are lucky enough to plant only large shade trees. We also select trees that are tolerant of the urban conditions in Georgetown – drought, poor soil, heat, and pollution from pedestrian and vehicular traffic, which are increasing every year. All these conditions threaten the well-being of our trees. Lack of water and soil compaction are the two most significant causes of the decline/death of street trees. Animal waste also adds to this. We have an agreement with UFD that for every tree that
TFG plants; we will install a protective, regulation wrought iron tree box fence. I spent six months with the Old Georgetown Board (OGB) fighting for these fences in Georgetown.
Poor care of tree boxes – overplanting, letting weeds and invasive vines grow freely, over-mulching, not watering, overwatering (usually because plantings in-box are watered frequently), stapling/taping signs to trees – all these and more affect the well-being of trees.
- Do you work with an arborist?
Keith Pitchford, an ISA certified arborist, specializing in conservation and preservation of trees, worked as our consulting arborist almost since the start (1989) of TFG. He has now retired and moved to Charlottesville. We are currently working with arborists from Casey Trees and UFD.
Keith helped us tag trees for planting and helped us put the right tree in the right place. He also periodically inspected specific trees at our request.
- How do you select which trees to plant? Who plants them? Are they volunteers, or are they paid?
TFG has always paid someone to plant our trees, from commercial nurseries to the Earth Conversation Corps (ECC), founded by our neighbor Bob Nixon, to Casa de Maryland (an organization that finds jobs for legal Hispanic immigrants) to our present contractor Casey Trees.
We now personally select each tree from Casey Trees’s tree farm in Berryville, Virginia. Casey delivers them to Georgetown, preps each tree box (removing all illegal surrounds, taking boxes down to sidewalk level including removal of all plantings, ameliorating soil if necessary), plants and mulches, provides watering devices (ooze tubes), and gives them an initial watering if water is available (from a neighbor’s house).
- Can you provide a list of do’s and don’t s to help Georgetown residents protect the trees?