A bare tree, with roots wrapped in a plastic bag, leans against the front window of Kim Massare’s home. Inside is a table filled with pastries, water and flyers for community involvement opportunities. About 20 volunteers packed the house on the 900 block of Wolf Street Sunday and, at first glance, it seemed as if old friends simply were gathering to enjoy each others’ company, but the 27-year-old co-chairwoman of the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association Clean and Green Committee had organized the almost-two-year-old group’s first tree planting.
"I was inspired to participate because South Philly has the least tree coverage," Massare, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s (PHS) Tree Tender course, which teaches basic tree care, said. "I believe trees help a neighborhood look better and an event like this brings the neighbors together."
The Lower Moyamensing group placed eight trees throughout the 1100 block of Ritner Street, the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Wolf and at Weinberg Park, Sixth and Jackson streets. The only problem that arose was when old slate steps were found along 12th and Wolf. That tree had its roots wrapped in burlap and would not fit in the space.
"PHS will be sending out a contractor to get through the slate steps," Massare said.
Along with Lower Moyamensing, the Passyunk Square Civic Association, Newbold Neighbors Association and the Newbold South Civic Association replaced or added trees Nov. 15 to 16 throughout the area, too. Passyunk planted 39 trees between Washington Avenue and Tasker Street and from Broad to Sixth streets; Newbold Neighbors placed 20 trees between Washington and Passyunk Avenue and Broad and 18th streets; and Newbold South planted 13 trees on Bancroft Street and the 2100 and 2300 blocks of South 16th Street.
Betsy Herbert, of the 1100 block of Wolf, heard about getting a free tree at a Lower Moyamensing meeting where a TreeVitalize representative spoke. The public-private group, which was the event’s co-sponsor with PHS, helps restore tree cover and educates about plantings.
"I applied because it looks lovely to have trees and it’s nice to have shade as well," Herbert said.
According to Tree Tender Project Manager Mindy Maslen, the goal is to have 1,000 trees planted by 30 different community groups in the Philadelphia area by Nov. 23. The next Tree Tender class begins Jan. 10 at the horticultural society, 100 N. 20th St. PHS allows no more than 150 people into the free, nine-hour course over several Wednesdays where pupils learn how to plant trees, their care and how to organize neighbors for mass plantings.
"Participants learn everything you could ever want to know about trees," Maslen said via phone. "They learn how a tree grows and what stresses them out. Through the program we have been able to create an army of people who know how to care for trees and are able to teach others within their community."
Following a demonstration prior to Sunday’s planting on the 1000 block of Wolf, volunteers eagerly headed to the properties awarded trees via a homeowners’ application. PHS, TreeVitalize and the Fairmount Park Commission determine what trees are to be planted where. The commission surveyed each requested area and, after the tree best suited for that street is settled on, private contractors cut the concrete sidewalks.
Working in groups of four to five, each tree was planted within 30 minutes. There was a wide variety on hand from blossoming cherry to redbuds, which is native to Pennsylvania. Six of the Lower Moyamensing trees were balled and burlapped, delivered with their roots set in dirt surrounded by the rough cloth that is removed before being dropped in the ground. The other two were bare root, but were dipped in a hydrating gel and wrapped in plastic, Ben Stanko, a commission tree maintenance worker who volunteered for the project, said.
"Bare root trees are easier to move due to their light weight, but it is vital to not expose the root systems to the air for too long," Stanko added.
A Tree Tender volunteer was at each site, such as Rachel Lipton. The resident of the 1000 block of Porter Street finished her last class during the World Series.
"Some people are negative about tree planting. They think they’re too much work," Lipton, who cringes when people cut down trees to avoid taking care of them, said.
To get the word out about the weekend planting, Massare passed out applications from Snyder to Oregon avenues and Broad to Eighth streets or talked to residents to gauge interest. Jo Noonan was approached by Massare while unloading groceries from her car.
"I had always been interested in having a tree planted, but thought I wouldn’t qualify because of the low-hanging wires in front of my house," the resident of 11th and Ritner streets said.
She filled out the application on the spot and qualified for a Japanese Tree Lilac, which is bushy with white flowers.
Janis Bonat, of the 1100 block of Wolf, received a Serviceberry tree. When the flyer came in the mail, she signed up immediately. It took a little convincing for husband Glenn, since he feared root growth could be a problem.
"I love blocks that have trees up and down them," Janis Bonat said. "I’m excited. I wish everyone would get a tree. I’d help them plant it."
Volunteer Veronica Viggiano got involved through the Lower Moyamensing association. She moved to Watts and Shunk streets a year ago and contacted the Fairmount Park Commission to have a tree planted in front of her home.
"I think this is fabulous and that a lot more people should get involved," Viggiano said of the tree planting.
Another mass planting is planned for spring and Massare hopes there will be even bigger numbers with shovels in hand.
"I was totally amazed by the amount of work we were able to accomplish," she said.