Trees dying in city’s new subdivisions
Velda Roberts is about ready to go door to door, telling owners of new homes how easy it is to keep their trees alive.
While Tonganoxie planning codes specify that builders must plant new trees when new homes are built, the codes don't specify that the trees must survive.
A quick drive through Tonganoxie's new housing developments will reveal close to 100 dead trees surrounding single-family homes and duplexes.
"I'm very disturbed by it," said Roberts, a city council member who also chairs the city's tree board.
"The unfortunate thing is once the developers have planted the trees, there's nothing we can do to require the individual homeowners to water the trees."
Not all new trees are in sad shape, Roberts said.
But those planted at new rental units seem to have suffered the most. Roberts said that of the rental units, trees planted outside townhomes in the Eagle Valley subdivision seem to be doing the best.
She credited in particular Eagle Valley developers Bill Chrisman and Paul Estes. The men have built about 18 townhomes in Eagle Valley, said Joyce Chrisman.
Joyce Chrisman said luck factored into their success with trees planted this spring on the north side of 12th Street.
"Most of those are doing real well," Chrisman said. "But we just really lucked out, we put them in early enough when we first planted them. We watered them and after that we got rain. They just took root and took right off."
And, they prepared the soil ahead of time, using peat moss and a root starter.
It also helped that only two of the townhomes are rentals and the people who have bought townhomes have continued watering their trees.
"I think it all helped the trees, but Lord, isn't this drought taking a toll on the trees," Chrisman said.
An area of Tonganoxie particularly stricken with dying trees is the Northstar subdivision, where duplexes and townhomes line the street across from Sonic. Dozens of trees in this area have died.
Alvis Shelton is a Eudora builder who in 2000 constructed eight duplexes at Northstar. Shelton said he doesn't know what he's going to do about all of his dead trees.
"Basically, this year and last year have been bad years for these little trees," Shelton said. "I don't know how anybody else fares but rental people don't take care of it like homeowners and they don't water it and stuff."
When asked if he had ideas of ways he could entice renters to take care of trees, Shelton said, "I don't know. If you come up with something, holler at me."
Tonganoxie's city administrator, Shane Krull, said builders are responsible for meeting the city's landscape requirements.
For single-family homes and duplexes, the city requires the planting of a minimum of three landscaping units per residence. One of these elements must be a tree.
A medium to large shade tree counts as two units, an ornamental tree or conifer as 1.5 units, a large shrub, one unit, and a small or medium shrub or bush, one-half unit.
Krull noted that for the past two summers the area has been in a drought, and the city has imposed voluntary watering restrictions, which has made new tree survival rates even more precarious.
"I think it's important to realize that there's largely been a drought condition for the last two years," Krull said. "Currently, the regulations are such that they are not skewed toward the maintenance aspect of it."
Once the trees are planted, the city has no regulations to make sure they live, Krull said.
"You have to look at if you're impeding on the property rights of the individual," he added.
And, Krull added, the issue becomes more complicated when the builder sells the property.
"You get a number of changes of ownership in this process," Krull said. "It gets down to the point of how much do you want to impose government on you landscaping your home and what people feel is acceptable."
Clear, cool water
Occasionally, an owner of a new home will call Roberts to see what he or she can do to save their trees.
"One of the calls I frequently get is how much water does it take," Roberts said. "A new tree really needs to have 10 gallons of water a week during the growing season."
This, Roberts said, is easy to accomplish, with water from the hose, or recycled water from the shower.
"You take one of those five-gallon buckets, poke some holes in the bottom, fill it up with water and let it drain out," Roberts said. "If you would do that a couple times during the week, you would have 10 gallons of water on the tree."
Bucket by bucket
It's the buckets with the holes that Ruth Clark goes for first.
For about 20 years, the rural Tonganoxie woman has kept five-gallon buckets beside her young trees in the summertime. She fills the buckets every other day and lets the water run onto the base of the tree via a small hole poked near the bottom of the bucket.
Three years ago when she planted her oak tree, it was a foot tall. Now the sapling is six feet tall.
"I'm a firm believer that if you plant something -- I don't care what time of year you plant it -- if you water that thing to where the water can get to the roots and around it, it will stay alive," Clark said.
It's a quick chore to water her seven young trees this way.
"Seven buckets at less than five minutes per bucket, it doesn't take that long, it really doesn't," Clark said.
Friends have asked Clark, who describes herself as frugal, why she spends money on water for her trees.
It's for the future, she said, for 30, 40 and 50 years down the road.
"People say it takes more in water than it does to replace them," Clark said. "But every year you get the growth."
Where to go from here
Roberts said Tonganoxie's dead tree problem is far from being a dead issue.
"We need to identify what's dead and gone and call the people who own the property," Roberts said, "and, as a tree board see if we can't get on a plan and let them know what needs to be done to make it right. It's in the best interest of the property owners and it's in the best interest of the city -- it's foolish to spend the money to plant the trees and not take care of them."