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Group spreads TLC for budding trees

GRAVOIS PARK – Some budding arborists set out from Cherokee Street on Tuesday night, intent on saving struggling saplings and keeping neighborhoods flush with trees.

Hosted by a new group called STL TreeLC, they went forth and dumped mulch around the young trees – but not next to them, to keep the protective covering from providing a hiding place for varmints intent on harming the street trees. 

They watered the trees, but not overly so. They weeded, inventoried and knocked on the doors of neighbors to spread the word.

In that way, the volunteer group partnered with Forest ReLeaf and St. Louis City Forestry to protect the struggling young plants.

“We are basically trying to organize areas in order to care for street and also park trees,” said group organizer Erin Godwin, at a table at Earthbound Beer before the group of 16 or 17 headed out. The establishment at 2724 Cherokee St. was a gathering place for the intrepid tree-huggers before and after their volunteer project.

“Tonight is sort of a test run. We’re just trying to get people out in a social atmosphere,” Godwin said.

The work was primarily on trees that are three years old or less, when trees are just getting established, Godwin said.

 “A lot of times, they’ll get hit by weed whackers and things like that,” Godwin said. “We are trying to address that, because it’s sort of the low-hanging fruit.”

Godwin started because she wanted to get involved in her neighborhood, Benton Park West. “Hopefully, this is the start of something that could become a big deal. There’s a gap in care that we hope we can fill.”

One of the people excited about the prospects of the new group is Cory Knoblauch, community forester with Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, which grows and plants native trees and shrubs throughout Missouri and surrounding regions.

“I’ve been trying to get a citizen-based tree care program since I started,” Knoblauch said. “We plant probably like 300 to 400 trees in the city of St. Louis every year. We don’t have the manpower or the time really to go back and take care of a lot of the trees we plant every year. So we end up losing some.”

With pruning, mulching, watering and other work, more trees will make it to a mature age, Knoblauch said. 

At the beginning of the session, volunteers received a brief lesson in how to care for trees. Knoblauch told those at the event to keep mulch away from the base by about six inches. If mulch is next to trees, rodents might get under the mulch and attack the tree base.

Those who turned out at the event included Terrill Eiland, a coworker of Godwin.

“She expressed her passion about taking care of and maintaining trees and planting more trees, so I wanted to come out and find out more about her volunteer effort to make trees a bigger part of the St. Louis metro area,” Eiland said.

Phoebe Love, another person at the event, agreed that the volunteers did valuable work. 

“Trees are very important, so I definitely don’t question the value of making sure that trees are thriving in our neighborhoods,” Love said.

More events are planned. Details are at STLTreeLC.org

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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