The Eugene Branch

How the Eugene-Springfield team is starting the 2023 season

In Eugene and Springfield, Friends of Trees has been growing a robust community of tree stewards through their community pruning events. They’re about halfway through their slate of seven pruning events, each one with a small but mighty crew of pruners. By keeping these events intimate, each pruner gets plenty of hands-on experience.

“Young tree pruning is the most cost effective thing you can do for an urban forest,” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. “It’s a great experience for volunteers. We have a lot of regulars, and some new folks too.”

The Eugene Springfield team will kick off their season as they always do with another planting along Northwest Expressway on November 4th. This year will be the monumental Phase 10 of this planting project. It’s a prime example of putting trees in places where there’s plenty of room for trees and the benefits they provide. The team is able to plant large species, and also plant shrubs and bulbs to create a multi-level habitat for pollinators and wildlife. As each phase matures it does more and more to clean the air from the expressway and the railroad.

One of the most exciting things happening in Eugene this season will be the expansion of our equity work into high priority neighborhoods. With funding from an EWEB Greenpower Grant, the Bethel, Trainsong, and Far West neighborhoods will each get planting events, increased engagement, and more trees!

“We want to continue focusing our urban tree planting work on equity, sustainability, and resilience,” Erik says. “The Greenpower grant has allowed us to do even more.”

These are just a few of the exciting things happening for our Eugene Team this season. Stay tuned for when we dig in on these topics and more, and visit their event calendar here to join in on the fun!

Leaflet: Spring Tree Care

Spring has Sprung – What that means for your trees

Spring has truly come in fits and starts this year. Some of us might still feel like it’s winter, and some are ready to announce that Spring has sprung! Trees are the same way when it comes to breaking dormancy. Some are early risers, and some sleep in. A bunch of factors go into it, including species, daylight, and temperature.

Spring is the perfect time to notice seasonal cycles. The study of these periodic events in biological life cycles is called phenology. When does a tree go dormant, when do you start to see buds, how long is the growing season? We can see quite a range among species.

“Cornelian cherries normally bloom about this time of year,” says Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist Andrew Land. “Whereas a few years back, someone approached me about an Oregon white oak that they thought was dead, until it finally broke bud in June.”

Andrew and other staff at Friends of Trees keep an eye on phenology as it particularly relates to survival. They take note of trends in trees’ responses to different stimuli like light and temperature, with the intent to prioritize the most climate adapted species.

Here are some things you can do to take care of your trees this time of year.

Mulch Madness

It’s a great time to refresh mulch as needed. The objective is to mulch the tips of the roots as they grow outward from the base of the trunk. They will grow into soil that’s moderate in temperature and contains moisture, factors that mulch will provide. Because the roots are growing outward, when you mulch trees in their second year in the ground, aim for more of a 4-5′ diameter ring of mulch, still 3” thick, about a foot from the base of the trunk.

You may have noticed that some trees hold their leaves through winter. They’re called marcescent leaves, and they are a sign of last season’s growth. You’ll see them on native oaks like Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana) and scarlet oaks (Quercus coccinea). Come spring time’s flush, these leaves will be shed to make room for new growth. You can use these leaves as mulch!

Go easy on the pruning

It’s best to go easy with regard to pruning during “bud break.” This is when sap is rising up the tree, after having dropped to the roots in the fall. As the sap is rising, some trees (maples, for example) will “bleed” if pruned as sap is rising. It’s not harmful to the tree—that’s where maple syrup comes from, after all—but it can be disconcerting to see.

Weekly Watering

It’s almost time to start weekly watering for newly planted trees. “Deep and infrequent” is the recipe for success. Starting mid-April, 15 gallons all at once, once a week is ideal. Either a gator bag, hose on a gentle trickle for maybe 20 minutes, or a 5-gallon bucket with three 1/8″ holes drilled on the side at the bottom and filled 2-3 times consecutively works great.

If the temperature gets over 90 degrees, bump that up to twice a week. If we see another heat “event” coming, a good, deep soak beforehand is very wise as preventative medicine.

More tree care here!

Get To Know Vancouver

Our 22-Year Partnership Continues to Grow!

Our thriving partnership with the City of Vancouver shows how committed the city is to trees and community. Since we started planting in Vancouver in 2001, we have worked with their Urban Forestry team to grow tree counts and volunteer engagement.

“It’s great to work with a city that’s investing in trees to be proactive about climate change,” says Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist Ian Bonham.

“It’s a really great partnership, working with a nonprofit to get trees in the ground and engage homeowners in stewardship,” says Jessica George, the City of Vancouver’s Urban Forestry Outreach Coordinator. “Friends of Trees really helps grow the understanding of how trees are important.”

With our new contract, the partnership has grown from 400 trees planted each season to up to 700 trees, and from 200 trees pruned to 300.

“Pruning is an important part of it,” Jessica says. “We need to make sure that the trees are cared for so that they can provide their benefits.”

“More investment means more results,” Ian says.

Friends of Trees has five planting events in Vancouver this season. That extra capacity has allowed us to give more attention to the Fourth Plain Corridor, a diverse, historically underserved community in need of canopy cover.

“The Fourth Plain Corridor has become a priority area for trees and engagement,” Jessica says. “Awareness of the importance of trees has really grown. We appreciate the Friends of Trees model of working with volunteers to grow the knowledge base.”

We still have room for volunteers if you want to sign up!

“We have awesome support from neighborhood coordinators,” Ian says, “and so many longtime volunteers do a lot to make it happen. It’s very collaborative, and we love to welcome new volunteers into the fold, too!”

“We’re really looking forward to it,” Jessica says. Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle and City Councilmember Sarah Fox will be in attendance.

We’ve also partnered with Vancouver on workforce development. They have hosted an AmeriCorps member since 2007 to work on community tree planting. In fact, both of our dedicated Vancouver staff came to us from the AmeriCorps position. The position was created to give capacity to both Friends of Trees and Vancouver as a sort of Super Neighborhood Coordinator. The position has morphed as the partnership has grown, but still supports Friends of Trees work in Vancouver. Vancouver Urban Forestry also hosts interns from our Adult Urban Forestry and Restoration Workplace Training Program.

The City of Vancouver is in the process of updating its Urban Forestry Management Plan, and is looking for public input. If you want to see more trees in your community, fill out their community survey.

Community Pruning in Eugene

Community Pruning—An Art and a Science

The Eugene Branch is in the heart of its pruning season, and has already hosted several successful community pruning events. They’ve been keeping these pruning events small and intimate so that each volunteer gets more hands-on experience. Pruning can feel like an art as much as a science, and it’s something that takes a lot of practice before you feel comfortable with it.

“We’ve had smaller pruning events in recent years because of Covid,” says Taylor Glass, Eugene-Springfield Program Manager for Friends of Trees in Eugene. “We decided to keep it small because the pruners really appreciate it.”

Each pruning event has just 15 volunteers, and they split into five groups, with one Friends of Trees staff member on each team. They prune to provide clearance over the sidewalk and the road, and they prune for good structure. In many but not all species, this includes encouraging a strong central leader.

One reason that Eugene prunes in late summer, rather than in the dormant season, is that it slows the trees down. “Here, fast growth is a bigger issue than slow growth,” Erik says. Fast growing trees are tougher to manage for strength and stability, and will often have weaker wood more prone to failure, particularly in snow or ice storms, which is something you don’t want in the urban environment.

“Young tree pruning is the most cost effective thing you can do for an urban forest,” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. Pruning helps create a lasting form that won’t suffer as much damage from storms and trucks.

When you walk up to a tree that needs to be pruned, it can be tough to know where to start. Every tree is different. You have a number of goals you want to achieve, but you can only prune so much. Each pruner might make different little decisions toward the same overall goal of forming the tree.

“It’s so personal, the approach each person takes,” Erik says. “We all do it totally differently and no one way is right.”

The small pruning teams allow for a collaborative decision-making process, which grows a volunteer’s experience and confidence. And with experience and confidence, a small team can accomplish just as much as a big group.

“Volunteers can be anxious, because they want to do it right,” says Erik. “But the trees are resilient, and they’ll be fine in the long run.”

Ideally a tree gets pruned every three years for the first fifteen years of its life. We’re not always able to provide every tree with the ideal number of prunings, but thanks to volunteer efforts, we can often give trees pruning attention that they need.

Pruning a tree can be really satisfying, when you step back and look at its form take shape. And it can be especially rewarding when you see the tree grow into that form over the years. Giving volunteers hands- on involvement in the process creates a special bond to these community trees, and volunteers always want to come back to do it again.

“Teaching is a great way to learn,” Taylor says. “And with each season, you learn more.”

Caring for Climate Trees in Eugene

Some climate trees can need a little extra TLC

We pay extra attention to all of our trees during their first few years of establishment. Watering, mulching, pruning, inspection, restaking, vandalism repair —this little bit of extra work has a huge impact on the tree’s success in the long run. Over the last decade, the Eugene Branch has been integrating more climate resilient trees into its planting regimen. They’ve found that these trees need a bit more attention, but because these trees will stand up to the changing climate, it’s definitely worth it.

Because these trees are not widely used in the nursery trade, they have not been selected for form in the same way. One guideline of climate change is that by 2050, each area’s climate will become like that of the area 500-700 miles south of them, so many of the trees we are trying are native to the area south of Eugene. Because of how they’ve been selected, more common trees in the nursery trade are more uniform—they tend to have trunks that go straight up and branches that are well-spaced.

Many common trees are cultivars, often patented clones. Of course, these trees still require some pruning, but they have had years of effort to select for form, so they are as predictable as a fast food burger. This process diminishes intraspecific diversity, or the diversity within a species, something that is just as valuable as interspecific diversity, the diversity between multiple species.

Some of the climate resilient trees the Eugene team are working on—like valley oak, blue oak, and California live oaks—often exhibit rapid, explosive growth, sometimes taking on a “rangy” or “shrubby” appearance. During their first three years of growing, they need more pruning and staking attention to achieve a good form.

“These climate trees need about twice as much pruning as a typical tree during their establishment years,” says Eugene Director Erik Burke. “But they are very drought tolerant and tough, and that gives them a leg up in the face of the changing climate.”

The Eugene Branch is about to start its yearly pruning. One reason that Eugene prunes in late summer, rather than in the dormant season, is that it slows the trees down.

“Here, fast growth is a bigger issue than slow growth,” Erik says. Fast growing trees are tougher to manage for strength and stability, and will often have weaker wood more prone to failure, particularly in snow or ice storms, which is something you don’t want in the urban environment.

It’s because our trees are in the urban environment that it’s so important to prune them to have a central leader and stong structure. A tree in the forest or a field will prune itself. But in the urban environment, we want to prune trees before a truck does, which could seriously damage the tree, or before a storm does, which would pose a threat to people and property.

The benefits of any one tree grow exponentially with every year it’s alive. We want our trees to have long, healthy lives so they can provide shade, clean air, and habitat.

“Climate resilient trees are only becoming more and more important, so we think they are worth that bit of extra effort,” Erik says.