It's been almost a decade since the dreaded emerald ash borer beetle chomped its way into Toledo, prompting a mass felling of ash trees in the public right-of-way.
Now, with about 8,000 ash trees down and just a handful left inside some parks, Denny Garvin, Toledo's director of parks and forestry, has turned his full attention to replenishing the city's embattled treescape. His department has planted 650 trees this spring along Toledo's streets and plans to plant 550 more in the fall. That, added to replanting efforts over the past few years, will bring Toledo more than halfway toward fully recovering its urban tree stock, he said.
"It feels wonderful," Mr. Garvin said. "I would so much rather plant a tree than cut one down any day."
Selecting diverse species of trees is essential to the city's replanting process. Mr. Garvin said Toledo has learned from the mass planting of ash trees along city streets several decades ago that monocultures can lead to trouble. If all the trees are the same type, they can become susceptible to the same destructive bug or disease. If different species are planted, there's more of a chance some will survive, he explained.
The new trees, which have been planted all over Toledo, cover several varieties that are chosen because of their ability to withstand the stresses of an urban environment, Mr. Garvin said. They include a number of types of maple, American hornbeam, multiple flowering pear trees, redbud trees, London planetrees, Burr oaks, swamp white oaks, and Chinkapin oaks.
Each tree costs the parks and forestry department $200 to $250 to buy and plant, Mr. Garvin said.
Choosing the trees "takes a lot of research," Mr. Garvin said. "A lot of it's trial and error."
To help the fledgling trees grow, the city has started putting green watering bags around their bases. The bags are filled with water that is released slowly into the ground so the trees don't need to be watered as regularly.
Residents with trees on the sidewalk outside their homes are urged to take care of them by giving them water, Mr. Garvin said. But that hasn't always happened, leading to the death of about 10 percent of newly planted trees. Mr. Garvin said he hopes the watering bags -- which cost almost $7,900 and were paid for through city sales of mulch -- will make it easier for residents to water trees in front of their properties. The city will water trees in the downtown itself, although Mr. Garvin said he encourages businesses to keep the bags topped off with water if they can.
"Even though we all know trees are alive, we don't always think of them as living things because they don't move. They're structured a lot like a light pole," Mr. Garvin said. "I've had individuals call me and complain that their next-door neighbor's tree is doing so much better than theirs, and it's literally because they haven't watered them."
Drew Todd, state urban forestry coordinator, said Toledo's response to the emerald ash borer problem has put it at the forefront compared with many other communities in the state. While some other municipalities have acted to contain the epidemic, others have done nothing at all, he said. Massive felling of the trees isn't always necessary, as chemical treatments can be used. However, Toledo's large population of ash trees made such an approach necessary, Mr. Todd said.
The emerald ash borer -- whose larvae essentially eat the tree's internal food supply until it starves to death -- remains a huge problem in the state, the coordinator said.
"It's a problem for every city, village, township, and any private owner that has an ash tree," Mr. Todd said. "Our job is to raise awareness, and with the help of communities like Toledo, we're trying to get this message across."
In the meantime, the state and Mr. Garvin are eyeing other potential threats for the future. These include the Gypsy Moth, which has established itself in northwest Ohio, and the Asian longhorned beetle, another destructive pest that recently appeared in the southernmost part of the state.
"If the past is any teacher of the future, we're going to have more of these [infestations] than we would like," Mr. Todd said.
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at email@example.com or 419-724-6272.