On a crisp October day a DDOT team was planting an American hornbeam tree (Carpinus caroliniana) on the 1700 block of 30th Street SE. The tree, when fully grown, could reach almost 50 feet high – just high enough to peer out from its new home in the District’s Randle Highlands neighborhood onto a city that is greener than ever, and expanding its tree canopy at a feverish clip.
Starting in FY 2017, DDOT has planted more than 8,000 trees annually, which is more than twice as many trees as it averaged from FY 10-13. The agency is accomplishing this at a rapid pace: it is planting around 100 trees per day this tree planting season, which started on October 1.
Aside from its breakneck efforts in adding street trees around the District, over the past few years DDOT has helped to expand the city’s tree canopy by taking on the responsibility of planting new trees in the District-owned land, such as parks and schools. Starting in late 2016, DDOT was charged with planting and maintaining trees in District-controlled parks and schools. During the 2017 tree planting season, DDOT planted 370 trees at such locations.
Additionally, DDOT has partnered with nonprofit organizations, such as the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC), by providing these organizations with grants to expand the green space in public housing developments. In 2017, for example, ECC planted more than 200 trees in public housing developments in Wards 7 and 8.
Finding Room to Grow
DDOT’s new benchmark of planting 8,000 trees per year might be hard to meet in the future for one simple reason: the agency is running out of existing open tree box spaces to plant trees in. As of October 19, DDOT has ensured that trees are planted in more than 93 percent of tree box spaces in the District. Current spaces to plant trees in the public right-of-way are becoming scarcer – in some Wards there are only a couple hundred open spaces to plant trees in.
Taking on the stewardship of trees beyond the scope of what DDOT has traditionally overseen, namely trees in the public right-of-way, is more than a set of new obligations that the agency is happy to take on. It might open up much-needed real estate on which to plant new trees, and grow out a healthier, greener DC.