Arbor Day continues amid pandemic

The Minneapolis Park Board stores saplings at Bohemian Flats along the Mississippi River. Upwards of 9000 trees will be planted this spring by MPRB employees. Submitted photo

Coronavirus may have prevented Minneapolis’ annual Arbor Day celebration, but it will not stop the planting of more than 9,400 trees along streets and in city parks. 

Spring tree planting is continuing during the pandemic, with some adjustments so forestry workers with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board can spread out and limit contact during the process, according to forestry director Ralph Sievert. 

Typically forestry crews work closely together plant trees, but this year are attempting to follow social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic. That means having one person digging holes and others following to do the planting. One crew member might hold a tree steady with a litter-grabber while another fills in the hole, Sievert said. Crews will normally have three people in a truck when going out to plant, but this year multiple cars are being used and the MPRB had to rent some utility task vehicles to make sure everyone can get to the site separately.  

“It ends up being like a caravan,” Sievert said. 

He expects tree planting will take a few weeks longer than usual this year, likely extending into mid-June. But the forestry department has already planted more than 3,000 trees, which Sievert called a good start. 

The MPRB is in year seven of an eight-year plan responding to Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), an invasive beetle that attacks and kills ash trees. Before EAB arrived, 21% of the city’s trees were ash. The Park Board used to plant about 5,000 new trees along city streets and in parks each year, but an annual $1.2 million levy passed in 2013 to fund the ash tree replacement program nearly doubled that figure. Now the emphasis is on diversifying the urban forest to minimize vulnerability to disease in the future with forestry selecting native and non-native species well-suited for the city’s climate. 

“When we’re done, we’ll have really changed the species composition of our trees,” Sievert said.

That includes trying not to add too many new maple trees, which make up about 25% of Minneapolis’ canopy. This year only about 50 new maples will be planted. Over time, the composition of the urban forest should change quite a bit, according to Sievert. 

“You don’t see the change quickly because we’re not removing them — we’re just not planting new ones,” he said.  

The forestry department also tries to plant some new trees that might do well in Minneapolis but haven’t been here in the past. A warming global climate means trees like bald cypress that do well in cities like Milwakuee and Cleveland are being tried here. This year the MPRB is planting about 10 osage orange trees, which are more common near Missouri and Indiana, just to see how the variety does. 

“We’ve been experimenting with different types,” Sievert said. 

The MPRB puts water bags on its newly planted trees, which Sievert said is a way to ensure the saplings receive about 20 gallons of water each week. The Park Board asks residents to fill the bags once a week for new boulevard trees. 

Discounted trees available

Minneapolis’ city trees program has scrapped the lottery system this year and is offering trees to property owners for $25 via Tree Trust. Normally there are only 1,000 trees available through the program, but this year they are distributing about 2,000 smaller saplings, according to Tree Trust director of community forestry Karen Zumach. The program launched in late March but still has about 300 trees left, Zumach said. The saplings are available on a first come, first serve basis. Residents can visit tinyurl.com/mplstrees for more information. The program is open through May 1 or until all trees are sold.