By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — For more than 10 years, he’s been helping to beautify the city by planting and maintaining trees in parks and other areas.
As a long-time member of Haverhill’s Brightside organization, David LaBrode has also become a watchdog of sorts and has taken it upon himself to notify officials whenever he sees a problem. You might call him Haverhill’s unofficial tree hugger.
Whether it’s letting the city know about a damaged tree planted through the mayor’s tree planting program or one that appears to need care, LaBrode is always quick to react.
He didn’t hesitate to reach out to the mayor in early July when he noticed that during a heat wave, trees were being planted along Bailey and Ginty boulevards. He said it just didn’t seem like the best time of year to be planting trees.
“It’s not that you can’t plant at that time of year, but it isn’t the ideal time,” LaBrode said. “Planting trees at this time of year subjects them to considerable stress, mainly from heat.”
LaBrode was pleased to see the care that was taken in planting the trees, including proper preparation of the soil and staking of the trees, but he worried they might not survive. He also wondered if they would be watered or simply left to their own survival. He contacted Mayor James Fiorentini with his concerns and also told him about Amesbury’s tree planting program, which relies on volunteers to care for trees after they are planted.
“I’m a tree advocate, but I don’t want to see them put in a tree then walk away,” LaBrode said. “It would basically be a death sentence for the tree.”
Fiorentini responded to LaBrode with more details about the city’s tree planting program than he expected.
Fiorentini told LaBrode that Haverhill’s program is more ambitious in scope than Amesbury’s, and that although the city prefers to plant trees in the spring or fall, every tree that is planted comes with a maintenance and sustainability contract and one-year warranty. Fiorentini said every tree is guaranteed to be regularly watered and maintained for one year.
“The watering effort will enhance the ability of the trees to survive this season,” LaBrode said.
LaBrode also told the mayor that he was concerned about some of the locations chosen for new trees, including on Bailey and Ginty boulevards and a median strip on Main Street near White’s Corner. Fiorentini told him that under an urban tree planting program, not all trees are expected to survive.
“I believe trees are a testament to the future and represent a belief in the future,” Fiorentini told The Eagle-Tribune. “I want to greatly step up the number of trees we are planting.”
Fiorentini said the 25 trees planted this summer were supposed to have been planted in the spring, but there were unforeseen delays.
LaBrode said the city obtained some “really nice trees” and hired a professional company to come in and make sure the soil was properly prepared in advance of planting.
“Just as a homeowner would do in their own yard,” LaBrode said.
When Fiorentini launched his tree-planting program 10 years ago, during his first term as mayor, disease-resistant elms were planted on Elm Street. Every year since then, the city has planted new trees along various streets.
“We planted disease-resistant elm trees in the median strip along Bailey Boulevard this summer and, if they last, someday the city will have a beautiful, tree-lined street,” Fiorentini said. “We also replaced trees along Ginty Boulevard that had died. It’s a difficult area as a lot of cars go by and sand and salt builds up.”
He said trees were also planted on Water Street in front of Central Plaza and on a median strip near White’s Corner.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for 10 years,” Fiorentini said.
Fiorentini said the state plans to rebuild that section of Main Street and when it does, the trees will be removed and then replanted.
LaBrode said he noticed a number of previously planted trees that did not survive, including some elms on Elm Street.
“I do not know what the average mortality rate is for street trees, but I do know that care and maintenance will go a long way to ensure their survival,” LaBrode said. “I will continue to assist the city in its efforts to reforest its urban settings.”
Fiorentini said that if they are regularly watered, the city can expect to lose no more than 20 to 30 percent of the trees it plants. He said that level of losses is normal for an urban area according to the experts he consults with.
Fiorentini said the city has a certified arborist on staff and regularly consults with outside arborists before planting any trees.
“The trees we plant is only part of it,” Fiorentini said. “We insisted that a large number of trees be planted along Route 125 as part of the state’s reconstruction project.”
He said each of those trees was professionally planted by an outside company and come with a one-year watering and maintenance contract and a one-year guarantee, which expires in November 2014.
“What we need the public to do is if they see a newly planted tree on Route 125 that is dying, we want them to tell us so we can go back to the company and have them replaced under the warranty,” he said about the roughly 130 trees.