New Trees Require Extra Care in Drought

“How much should we be watering our trees?” That was the question from Bob Fireovid and Joan Falcao of Health Hero Farm, who received 115 trees from the Franklin County Conservation District this spring to plant a windbreak for their farmstead.

Trees need consistent moisture to survive being transplanted, especially during a dry spring and summer like we’re having. The windbreak, along with about 7 acres of other tree plantings facilitated by the Conservation District and the 3500 trees sold through their spring tree sale, was planted in the first few days of May. While rain has brought relief a few times, mostly it was a dry spring; April through June in Franklin County fell short of our average rainfall by about 25%, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell.

Fireovid and Falcao have been watering the trees whenever they can fit it into their busy schedule, and it makes a big difference. Out of the 29 white cedars planted only three have died so far, and all but one of the 14 white spruce are doing well.

“Given how dry it’s been, that kind of survival rate is a real testament to Bob and Joan’s commitment to keeping these trees watered,” said Jeannie Bartlett, who has been providing technical guidance on the project through her role at the Conservation District. She advised the farmers to water their new trees so that the soil two- to eight inches down stays consistently moist. “Planting a tree or a live-stake is not just about the planting,” she continued. “Just like no one would plant seeds and expect them to grow without water, or without controlling weeds and pests – the same is often true with trees.”

Many of the trees the Conservation District planted this spring aren’t somewhere where it’s convenient to set up drip irrigation or water them with a hose. District staff spent several hours hauling buckets of water by hand from stream to tree on two other projects in May. “The ground was so hard and dry it was hard to get the water to soak in,” reflected Brodie Haenke, Conservation Specialist for the District, who helped water 150 trees in a remote, half-acre project along the Hungerford Brook. “I was surprised though – the trees still looked really good. It had been two weeks without rain, but most of them were doing surprisingly well. They might have begun to die back in a few more days of dry heat though.”

The Conservation District counted on Mother Nature for a six-acre project they coordinated for the Patnode family, whose hayfield abuts Rt. 36 and Fairfield Swamp. “Being right next to the swamp, and knowing the kind of wetland vegetation growing in that field, we just really hoped the soil would stay moist enough,” said Bartlett. “Also, there was no affordable way we could have brought water to the 1,800 trees we planted there.” After paying a visit to the site in the end of June, Bartlett reported that the ground was moist and the trees didn’t look a bit drought-stressed. “The problem there is more deer,” she concluded.

The Franklin County Conservation District facilitated and funded tree planting projects with six different landowners this spring, planting a total of 2500 trees over about 7.5 acres. Some of the projects have farm-specific goals, like the windbreak at Health Hero Farm, trees to shade an animal laneway at Choiniere Family Farm, or nut trees to eventually provide both shade and food for pigs at Long Winter Farm. Most projects, however, are explicitly to improve water quality and wildlife habitat in our county’s waters. The Conservation District was able to support these projects through grant agreements with PurProjet and the Lake Champlain Basin Program, as well as cooperative support from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, ECO AmeriCorps and others. Projects outside the Lake Champlain Basin are frequently organized by other Conservation Districts with funding from the VT Department of Environmental Conservation.

Anyone interested in planting trees through the Franklin County Conservation District can contact Jeannie Bartlett by emailing or calling 802-528-4176.