Sunday, August 25, 2013


Tree Pit Brigade members

For many years, Church Avenue was nearly barren, with an average of less than one tree per block from Coney Island Avenue to 36th Street. Now that we have many more trees on our main shopping street, the Tree Pit Brigade has formed to make sure that they survive.

Each Tuesday morning, the Tree Pit Brigade goes out and improves the life of one tree on Church Avenue. Why do we care so much about trees anyway?

Aside from looking beautiful, trees do a lot for us. Their leaves capture particulate waste emissions from cars. They provide shade for the elderly on their way to Astoria Federal Savings bank. Trees reduce the heat island effect of raised temperatures found in cities. The presence of trees increases property values by up to 10% and can attract customers to businesses. Trees provide homes for birds, animals, and insects.

Unfortunately, street trees have a tough life and they need our love. What exactly do street trees need that they don’t already get? As it turns out, a lot!

Street trees have a tough life for three main reasons.

1) Street Trees Are Thirsty Because People Step on the Soil.

Trees in the forest get water and nutrients through natural processes. A tree’s roots,which do all of the drinking and eating, spread far beyond the canopy of the tree. Root spread can be up to two to three times the size of the canopy. (London Plane tree canopy width can be up to 80 feet wide!)

But for a street tree, this area is limited to the size of the tree pit, which can be as small as two feet square, whereas it normally might be 10 or 20 feet square. It is very hard for a tree to get enough food and water when the area of its mouth is reduced by 90%. When people, animals, shopping carts, and bicycles trample across the soil surrounding a tree, the soil becomes tight and compacted.

Have you ever seen puddles form around street trees when it rains? That happens because the soil has been tamped down so tightly that the water can’t get through it to the tree’s roots, which would gladly drink it up. In the forest, fewer feet trample across the land, and more animals dig it up to aerate it. Animals burrow in the soil; worms meander through. This ensures that the soil is not tight and the rain can get to the tree’s roots.

2) Street Trees Are Damaged Easily.

Imagine if whenever you got a scratch on your back, your arm or leg fell off?That’s exactly what can happen to a tree when a car door bashes into it or a bike is chained to its trunk. Street trees are more likely to suffer these kinds of injuries, especially those without tree pit guards.

3) Street Trees Suffer From Careless Waste.
Some owners allow their dogs to “mark” or “water” trees. Did you know that urine can damage tree trunks and leave them exposed to insect infestations? Dog poop harms trees too--it is not compost. It throws the soil's nutrients out of balance. People unwittingly throw garbage, cigarette butts, and liquid waste into tree pits; all of these leach chemicals into the soil.

That’s where the Tree Pit Brigade comes in! Our team of neighbors, WHO ARE JUST LIKE YOU, meets each week to protect one tree. We first assess a merchant’s willingness to water a tree. If a merchant says that he or she will water a tree, we  amend the soil by adding compost, plant a few plants, and mulch. The compost feeds the tree necessary nutrients, and the mulch keeps the water in. Our Mini Grant from Million Trees NYC has provided us with $1,000 to purchase Treegators ® and other supplies. We are distributing these as rewards to participating Church Ave. merchants.

We are also working with City Councilmember Brad Lander’s office to get tree pit guards to further protect the trees. However, his budget is not large enough to protect all of the trees on Church Ave. Catherine Zinnel, Brad Lander’s District Director, has promised the Kensington community that we will receive up to twelve tree guards. The Tree Pit Brigade plans to build simple guards for the unprotected trees when we have enough volunteers and money to do it.

If you want to meet your neighbors and protect our trees, we can use your help working in the tree pits on Tuesdays and picking up compost and mulch on Thursdays or Fridays.

If weekdays aren’t convenient for you, please mark your calendar and join us on Sunday, September 15th, for the Tree Pit Brigade Parade. We will give a little “TreeLC” to up to 20 trees on Church Ave., and we need your help to do it! Join us from 11 a.m. to noon to learn how to care for trees and from noon to 2 p.m. to put your tree care knowledge to work by amending soil, planting bulbs and plants, and mulching trees.

All attendees of the Tree Pit Brigade Parade will be entered in a raffle to win fabulous prizes, including an on-the-ground tree pruning, a plant, leather-clad gardening gloves, or a beautiful flower-patterned garden tool set.

Please contact Bridget at evergreen827 [at] aol [dot] com for more details! 

                                                                                                                   --The Tree Pit Brigade