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The drought of 2005 and care of trees in hot, dry weather

This page is presented by the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its Parks and Environment Committee, its website, and its affiliate committee Nichols Park Advisory Council. Join the Conference and support our work. Contact Parks Chair Gary Ossewaarde. Contact NPAC Chair Stephanie Franklin at 773 955-3622.

Below: article from the Summer 2005 Conference Reporter
Chicago Park District watering coorinator: Elizabeth O'Callaghan, 312 742-4190.
Collateral: Who's paying attention when trees are marked for removal? No agency knows who's marking trees at 51st for removal and why. These 40 are healthy non-elms.

Be ready for next year. Our trees and shrubs may still have a water emergency. Hyde Park is fortunate that it does not depend on wells, but with Lake Michigan levels down a bit and the inevitably-coming pressure to band together with the rest of Illinois, we would do well to get water down into the tree roots before water bans are imposed. This can be done while exercising care for water conservation. This page presents what various expert monitors say should be done.

Remember that timely and continuing intervention can save hundreds or thousands of dollars per tree in replacement costs. And remember the many services provided by trees including shade, the equivalent of several air conditioners, water conservation, soil stabilization, habitat for birds and other wildlife, and joy and humility for us.

Several neighbors are already working where they can and organizing efforts both in parks and among neighborhood institutions and businesses. One of these is the Conference's affiliate committee Nichols Park Advisory Council. They are seeking more hoses and volunteers so they can more efficiently water especially the younger trees. If you have old hoses to spare or can spare some time, call Stephanie Franklin at 773 955-3622.

The City of Chicago and Chicago Park District and hired firms are watering to the extent possible, mostly with water trucks which fill the baby tree's slow-soak diapers. Unfortunately, 1) many trees that have reached the age of a year have now had the diapers yanked and 2) Lots of trees planted in the past year have already died, 3) the Chicago Park District has not fully reconstituted its supervisory forest and natural areas management.'

In addition, the CPD Superintendent in early September sent the advisory councils a letter concerning directive to park regions and supervisors to water young trees and work with the councils in so doing. The regions did not timely receive this communication and do not have the promised equipment.

Also, tree rescue no matter where, should have started months ago--as soon as spring, at latest early June, if it hasn't rained well and at least an inch a week for a month or if the signs of stress are present, the deficit should be made up by effective watering, especially long and slow soaking overnight at least once a week (equal to at least sixty gallons) until one is sure the water deficit is over. If the leaves have gone, the tree may already be dead-trees don't go dormant in summer, they die! If the tree still looks healthy and you're just starting now, you still have deficit to make up. And remember that a "baby" tree is one under 5 years old.

Tree Crisis in the Neighborhood

From the Summer, 2005 HPKCC Conference Reporter. By Stephanie Franklin, Chair, Nichols Park Advisory Council, an affiliate committee of the Conference.

Under normal circumstances, trees need an inch of rain a week. That is approximately 60 gallons of water per tree, or 12 five-gallon buckets.

These are not normal circumstances! We are now in the worst Chicago drought since 1895, combined with record heat. Each mature tree provides the air cleaning and air cooling capacity of five room air conditioners. We need to save our trees.

What can you do?

  1. Water your own trees and parkway trees. Use a leaky hose circled under the outer reach of leaves for at least 3 to 4 hours. Overnight is not too long. Or, string hoses together, leave joints loose, and water several trees at once. Remember, tree roots spread out, at least as far as the leaves, not down like a carrot. Water the roots, not the trunk.
  2. Water trees in Nichols Park, or donate old hoses and hose repair parts. Buy yourself a new hose--donate the old one. Call Stephanie Franklin at (773) 955-3622.
  3. Water trees in other parks. Many parks have water sources (lawn hydrants or 1-inch hoses). You can get an adapter from one inch lawn hydrant to garden hose from the hardware store if not from your local park. You can also run a hose across the street--just keep fittings (ends) out of the traffic path.
  4. Mulch to conserve moisture. After watering, put mulch in a doughnut shape around the tree, 3 to 4 inches thick. Keep mulch away from the tree trunk.
  5. Talk to your building custodian, nearby school, church or shopping center. Explain the ursgency of watering the trees. Grass goes dormant: it will survive. The trees wont. It is far more expensive to rellace a tree than to save it.
  6. Partner with community groups you belong to. Choose an area and make tree saving a group or block project. Chalk the date you water on the tree trunk to help you and your partners remember: 60 gallons per week.

Whatever you do, act now!

The trees need water now, even if they look fine. By the time you actually see damage, it may be too late. And remember, the drought is not over even if we get a few good rains. Replacement cost? About $3,000 per tree. Water cost? pennies.

c Nichols Park Advisory Council, with information from Openlands Project TreeKeepers



From the City's website,

Report stressed trees at their website work request form or call 311.
The city has an emergency parkway watering crew.

Please help us protect trees throughout the city during this period of extreme drought. Even if we receive signifiant rain, Chicago's trees asre in water deficit and will need extra water into the fall.


HOW DO I KNOW IF THE TREES IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD ARE IN NEED OF WATER? Trees and shrubs under drought stress will show the following signs:

1. Wilting during the day that does not recover by the next morning.

2. Leaves that are lighter in color than usual.

3. Leaves that are scorched and browning.

4. Leaf yellowing and leaf drop.


Water deeply and slowly. Set a hose to a slow trickle over the root zone- which extends from the tree's trunk to the soil beneath the outer edges of the tree's branches [drip line]. Cover as much of the root zone as possible. Using a soaker hose, a treegator, or a tree 'donut' will allow for fewer trips out to the tree to move the hose.

Apply roughly 10 gallons of water for each diameter inch of the tree. Newly transplanted and more mature trees should be watered for longer--as much as 3-4 hours a day. More mature trees have more established root systems and may not be showing signs of drought stress [but have it nonetheless-and their roots may extend far beyond the dripline].

Do not water in the heat of the day. Early morning is the best time to water, evening is second best.

Use 2-4 inches of mulch around the base ofdthe treee (but not touching the tree's trunk) to hold water in the soil, prevent evaporation and insulate roots from the heat.

Do not use watering devices that shoot water in high arcs. Most of that water will never make it to the soil and tree roots in extremely hot conditions. It will evaporate into the air. Use a hose nozzle attachment that distributes water low to the ground.

Let your grass go dormant during drought periods by refraining from watering it, so limited water resources can be used to keep trees and shrubs alive and healthy.

Take special care of trees in pits and containers; these are especially vulnerable as their soil heats up and dries out very quickly.

In July the Mayors Landscape Advisory Committee, the Chicago Park District and Openland Project Treekeepers has issued an urgent apeal to esidnet to protect the trees.

"We are uring Chicagoans to help us protect our valuable natural resource of trees by helping us to water them. We encourage residents to help during the drought by watering in evning or morning," said new Commissioner of the Enviroment Sadhu Johnston. "Working with the Park District, Fire Department and residents, we can hlep protect and conserve both our trees and water."

For July, despite one late rain, rain was about an inch vs. average of 4 inches. We are down about 6.5 inches for the year, 2/3 of that this summer. Trees need an inch of water a week or 60 gallons for average bore. Those under 5 years are esp. vulnerable. Trees don't go dormant in a drought, they die.

What good are trees? They clean the air, give us our oxygen and a 12-inch diameter tree has the cooling capacity of 5 air conditioners.

Park District spokesperson Michelle Jones says, "We are being very aggressive and have made it a priority to [water trees.]" Replacement cost is $800-$1,000 so even a water truck is cost-effective.

Still another take on what to do in 2006:

Perhaps you have seen the recent Tribune article about the effect of the drought on Chicago's trees. In sum, the article said that trees are already starting to get permanent damage. Those that are not killed outright are being weakened so that another thing like severe weather this winter will kill them. Small, newly planted trees are the most vulnerable.

The Tribune recommends that trees be watered with a soaker hose, 30 minutes for newly planted trees and 3-4 hours for established trees. Small, frequent amounts do not really help.

The Trib says the city is moving its grass care employees to tree watering duty, but that it needs the help of people in the neighborhoods.

Stephanie Franklin has a small article in the Hyde Park Herald where she recommends using leaky hoses overnight. (There is more evaporation in the middle of the day.)

What I have found out is that it is perfectly possible to gain access to trees across the street by running a hose, or several attached hoses for length, across the street to the tree. Cars seem to drive over the hose without causing a problem. Presumably less than ideal methods-a regular, non-leaky, hose or an intensive bucket brigade for the small trees-are better than nothing.

So lets's get together and save our trees. You might want to forward this to friends in the neighborhood and in other parts of the city and suburbs.


Extrapolated from notes from Openlands TreeKeepers on what trees do for us and we can do for them

Oenlands Project has a TreeKeeper urban forest training program--exams, certification et al.
Attn: TreeKeeper J im DeHorn, 25 E. Washington Street, Suite 1650, Chicago, IL 60602-1708.
312 427-4256 x232.

Leaves- The pores (stomata) absorb carbon dioxide and pollution and release clean oxygen as well as excess water via transpiration that cools the surrounding air (and feeds the next rain cycle).

Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color and is the agent of energy and CO2-O2 exchange (photosynthesis) that manufactures the tree's food. The fall colors are present but masked by the chorophyll.

The dripline is an imaginary line from the farthest branches to the ground. The furthest roots may spread far beyond that point.

Roots- over 90 percent are in the top 18 inches of soil, [so ensuring lateral spead to that depth does more good than soaking a small diameter to China.] Roots absorb water, hydrogen nd dissolved minerals-[and would be useless without the breakdown work of worms, bacteria, fungus, beetles et al.] Trees transplanted from nurseries loos 70-95% of their roots--so they especially need water. Root tips grow throughout the year except during very hard freezes.

Bark is a tree's skin--first layer of defense--and is waterproof. The phloem, just below the bark, transports food from the leaves to throughout the tree. The xylem, under the phloem, transports water, oxygen and minerals from the roots to the leaves. Each year the xylem and phloem expand their clones outward, tubes produced in the spring being larger than in the slow-growth summer. The previous year's p and x plug up, die, and become part of the strutural heartwood of the tree.

Mulch: A Tree's Best Friend.

Mulch is a young tree's best friend. It holds down competing weeds or gass, retains moistrure, prevents soil cracking that can damage new roots, protects the truk frm lawnmower damage, and helps prevent soil compaction. Common mulches include bark, wood chips, decorative gravel, and crushed lava. Oragnic mulches such as wood chips or pine needles also contribute to better soil structure and aeration as they decompose. Avoid limestone rock and allow no much to touch the tree's trunk or be piled higher than three inches.

How to plant a containerized tree.

When transplanting, be sure to keep soil around the roots. Always handle your tree by the ball, not by the trunk or branches. Don't let the roots dry out. Help prevent root girdling by vertically cutting any roots that show tendancies to circle the root ball.

If a tree is planted correctly, it will grow twice as fast and live at least twice as long as one that is incorrectly planted. Ideally, dig or rototill an area one foot deep and approximately five times the diameter of the root ball. Firm the subsoil to prevent settling. The prepared soil will encourage root growth beyond the root ball and result in a healthier tree.

After placing the tree in sloped-side hole, pack soil firmly, but not tightly, around the root ball. Water the soil and place a protective 3-foot circle of mulch around the tree.