'Re-Leaf Duluth' seeks to restore the environment

DSC_0007 Higher energy costs, pollution and unhealthy growing environments are all problems faced with the loss of urban trees. After the disappearance of trees in the urban areas of Duluth, the city launched the Re-Leaf Duluth program, which has has set out to restore the tree canopy of the city one tree at a time.

Urban trees provide shade for our houses and businesses, and they soak up rainwater to lessen runoff into lakes and streams, which becomes polluted from flowing through the hard, concrete jungle of our urban environments. To many people though, urban trees simply provide a more pleasant living environment.

The city of Duluth established the Re-Leaf program three years ago after setting aside a $5,000 annual budget to re-leaf the city.

“One of the main goals of the program is to increase awareness of the benefits and importance of urban trees and how they benefit people as individuals and community as a whole,” said Shawna MullenEardley, an Urban Forestry GreenCorps member.

For $25, or half the cost of the tree, any homeowner in the city that lives on a boulevard with a strip of grass that is at least four feet wide between the sidewalk and street is eligible to apply for a tree.

“Around 150 trees get planted, we usually get more orders than we have trees and have to push them back to the next planting season,” MullenEardley said. “This last year, we went over our limit by 25 trees.”

Homeowners have a chance to request one of several different kinds of trees through this program, including Maple, Oak, Elm, Hackberry, Crabapple, and Japanese Lilac, with Maple being the most requested. However, there ends up being an even distribution of species throughout planting in order to maintain species diversity.

The trees that are planted are between five and seven years old, and they are purchased from various nurseries in Minnesota and held in a gravel bed until they are planted. Planting season usually begins mid-May, once the ground is workable by 22 employed city workers. These workers plant the trees and prune them about once every three years.


Once the trees have been planted, the homeowners are expected to care for the trees. Homeowner's responsibilities include watering the tree and providing basic care for at least the first few years after planting.

“We ask for a partnership between us and the homeowners,” said Bob Dunsmore, a maintenance operations lead worker.

The program has seemed to have reached the entire city, as MullenEardley said orders come from neighborhoods throughout the city.

“There isn't any particular area that will be getting the most trees," MullenEardley said. "We focus on areas that are in need of trees that have a lower canopy or areas that have less trees. It's pretty evenly spread out.”

Ann Redelfs, a Duluth resident, ordered four Autumn Blaze Maple trees last summer after hearing about the program.

“I ordered four trees, not knowing if they would fit in my yard, so I donated two trees to the tennis court," Redelfs said "I really feel strong about the program. My experience with the program was utterly fantastic. Everyone in the department is wonderful.”

Many orders have been placed for this upcoming season, MullenEardley said. Along with the city-funded program, there is also a volunteer program that plants trees throughout the city. According to MullenEardley, the volunteer program is expected to plant an additional 150 to 200 trees throughout the city.

“If I can help make Duluth look wonderful with new trees, I'm happy to do it,” Redelfs said.

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