|Travis Collins inspects a tree at MOFGA’s Common Ground Education Center. English photo.
Unity Arborist Travis Collins Develops Tree-Care Plan for MOFGA
Last summer, certified arborist Travis Collins assessed the condition of 100 trees that had been planted on MOFGA’s grounds, and he developed a three-year plan to upgrade the care of the 21 species. The assessment and plan were all done on his own time, as a MOFGA volunteer.
A graduate of Unity College, Collins worked for various arborists in New England before he and his wife and children settled in Unity. Collins still does some tree care and consulting projects, and he’s teaching alternative education at Mount View High School.
A visit to the Common Ground Fair prompted his volunteerism. “A few years back my family and I visited the grounds during a brutally hot Fair day. Throughout the day I had visions of mature, healthy shade trees providing relief for fairgoers.
“During a volunteer work party last spring, C.J. Walke (MOFGA’s landscape coordinator, and a fellow Unity College graduate) asked if I would take a look at the trees and offer advice on their care.” Collins took the request a step further, developing the three-year plan.
The most common problems that Collins found on MOFGA’s trees were inadequate mulch and direct contact of soil and/or mulch with the root collar of some trees. Mulching landscape trees is a good practice, and mulch should extend at least to the drip line of the tree – but mounding mulch against the stem of a tree keeps too much moisture there, potentially rotting bark; inhibits the exchange of oxygen and other gases; and reduces the translocation of plant growth regulators. Collins recommended pulling all soil and mulch away from the critical root collar without damaging stems or delicate roots, and completely exposing the area where the stem “swells” into the main buttress roots. Farther from the tree trunk, mulch should be maintained at 2 to 4 inches deep, he said, and the applied mulch should have been composted for at least six months to prevent nitrogen deficiency.
Collins found a few insect pests, as well – Japanese beetles, twig pruners and aphids on some oaks (red oaks make up 45% of the planted trees); and slug sawfly larvae on hawthorns. Other occasional problems included frost cracks, sunscald, borer holes and sapsucker injury, and Collins noted a need for pruning, improved soil fertility and watering. Overall, however, 85% of the trees were in fair to good condition.
The three-year plan that Collins developed will make caring for MOFGA’s trees manageable, tending the neediest in the first year, and continuing with the remaining trees over the next two years – pruning, mulching, and excavating around root collars. These are great activities for volunteers, the arborist says, and they present educational opportunities.
“Many of the concerns I found with MOFGA’s trees are common to homeowners’ landscape trees,” Collins explains, “especially mulching issues. Long-term ‘volcano’ mulching (excessive mulch piled around the trunk) invariably causes root disorders, reduced vigor and eventual decline. When done properly, mulching with composted wood chips (or your favorite ‘black gold’ recipe) is the simplest, cheapest way to promote overall plant health.”
In addition to evaluating MOFGA’s trees, Collins gave two workshops on “Cultivating Natural Defenses of Trees” at the Common Ground Country Fair. “I was amazed and excited to see how many tree-folk showed up,” he says. “It was crowded in the tent but felt much better when I took the crowd outside. They had many questions long after the talks were over, so I would say fairgoer interest in landscape tree care is indeed high.”
Collins has suggested several other educational programs that MOFGA might consider, including a MOFGA arboretum with signs identifying trees; a guidebook to MOFGA’s trees; a self-guided tour of the arboretum; a library or bookstore with tree-related materials; National Arbor Day events; tree care workshops given in exchange for volunteer labor on MOFGA’s trees; Project Learning Tree workshops (an environmental education program; see plt.org); and a tree ID contest.
“I hope to work with C.J. in the future to organize volunteer and educational workshops and to implement and update the management plan,” he says. “I plan to continue caring for the trees until we can enjoy a shady Fair.”