And Then There Were Nine: Ninth Tree Dead Around Washington Square Fountain Over Three Years

second time tree dies in location by the Arch

oh dear…

Previous tree, Last August

Since the Fountain Plaza was redesigned in 2009 and existing healthy 40 year old trees were axed so the Fountain could align with the Arch (sort of), nine young trees have been planted and subsequently died. The latest tree, located right near the Arch, hadn’t looked healthy for awhile and at last succumbed (pictured above). A tree died in this same location last August. Here is a recap from this blog on August 17, 2011 when the previous tree alongside the Arch died:

I’ve previously reported on the young trees dying repeatedly around the Washington Square Fountain, this tree (pictured above) now makes tree #8. Over the last two years, trees have been replaced by the Parks Department and died 3x in two locations around the fountain; a new arborcidal incident occurred on the western side just recently. Now this — the fourth location lining the fountain to exhibit a dead tree.

These events were forecast by a landscape architect I encountered back in August of 2009 who predicted ALL the trees around the fountain would likely die and attributed this to the design.

These young (now dead) trees replaced perfectly healthy living trees which were 40+ years old, axed because they got in the way of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to move the famous fountain 22 feet east to align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue.

The reality is that these aren’t the only dead trees dying at Washington Square Park. North, South, East, West, Perimeter, Within – trees are dying all over at the park.

What can be done to stop the New York City Parks Department from committing this arborcide?

Note: In late September of last year, the Parks Department told WNBC-TV’s Chris Glorioso that they were studying the issue and conducting tests but it didn’t sound as if they planned to do anything differently despite expert advice isolating what they were doing wrong (that they continue to ignore).

Why will this agency in charge of our city’s trees not do the right thing? Is it political as I surmised (based on information from a source) at the onset?

Previously at WSP Blog:

July 11, 2011: Why do the Newly Planted Trees Around the Washington Square Fountain Keep Dying?

July 15, 2011: Arborcidal Design for Fountain Trees — Will City’s Parks Department Address This at Last?

December 10,2009: Two of Seven Newly Planted Trees that Line the Fountain have died — Is the cause the design?

Photos: Cathryn

What Will Happen Next for Washington Square Park Trees? Four New Arrivals Replace Perpetually Dying Trees Around Fountain

If you were wondering what the Parks Department’s next move would be after all the attention given to the perpetually dying trees that line the Washington Square fountain, it appeared when four new trees were planted mid-last week…

Village Green Zelkova

One of the New Tree Arrivals (West)

New tree

Roots? Drainage?

One in a Million

One of four new trees


When NBC New York featured a segment on this story in late September, the New York City Parks Department told reporter Chris Glorioso:

“We have experienced a series of failed plantings for the Zelkova trees in the area around Washington Square Park’s plaza. We are investigating potential causes of why trees are not surviving here and will conduct soil tests, examine the drainage, and determine if there is a problem with this particular species.”

At the time, Glorioso spoke to an arborist, Ralph Padilla, who stated:

“It was planted incorrectly,” he said after examining the dead tree near the arch. “It was planted too deep.”

“The giveaway is that all trees, before they enter the soil [should] flare out slightly at the base,” he said.

The dead tree near the arch does not flare out at all, Padilla said. He said it was possible that private contractors or parks personnel repeated the mistake by burying the root balls of eight trees too far beneath the soil, suppressing oxygen supply. When roots are submerged too deeply, recent transplants can die. …

My initial reporting on this in 2009 including speaking to a landscape architect at the Park who revealed that the design was inappropriate for the trees’ survival. He stated that the Parks Department would likely not address the issue sufficiently — due to internal politics and not wanting to ruffle the park’s redesigner – and accurately predicted that this pattern of dying trees would happen repeatedly. Eight young trees have died over four years; in two locations, trees have been planted and died three times in a row. These trees all replaced healthy 40 year old trees axed due to the Bloomberg Administration’s symmetrical “vision” of moving the fountain from its historical location 22 feet east to “align” with the Arch.

The way these four new trees are planted looks exactly the same – in fact, the roots look even more submerged. What do you think? Will the arborcide continue?

Inquiries this blog has made to the city Parks Department as to what their assessment revealed have not been responded to.
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Two Stories on Washington Square’s Dying Trees Around the Fountain

Updated —

DNAinfo covers the dying trees around the Fountain and has the city’s response (and mine!) with this story: City Getting to Root of Washington Square Park Tree Deaths (August 25, 2011)

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Local Ecologist Blog notes how the latest tree is dying and researches what this signifies:

Strolling through the park yesterday morning I was struck by the bronze foliage of one of the remaining Zelkovas (Zelkova serrata, Japanese zelkova; Ulmaceae (elm family)) around the fountain. Bronze is a color typical of fall foliage; this tree is not exhibiting the dark green typical of summer.

The bronze (brown) color indicates leaf scorch. The entire canopy appears scorched.* Also, there is some dieback in the center of the canopy. What are the causes of scorch? From The Ohio State University “Disease Control in the Landscape” (Bulletin 614):

These diseases commonly result from winter damage as well as from poor root function coupled with high temperatures and moisture shortage. In some cases, bacterial infection of the plant is involved. Scorched leaves are brown around the edges and sometimes between the veins. Leaf yellowing and wilting may occur in late summer. Dieback and decline is often mistaken for Verticillium wilt. No wood streaking is present, however. Girdling roots may also cause these symptoms.

When I looked into the tree well I noticed that someone (or an animal) had dug near the trunk and at the edge of the basin. Looking into the cleared soil next to the trunk I did not see the root flare. Planting a tree so that its root flare is at the soil surface is important — for gas exchange, disease control, and to prevent girdling roots.

Read more at A bronze Zelkova in August.

See WSP Blog coverage posts on the dying trees.

How Many Trees Around the Washington Square Fountain Must Die Before Suffocating Design is Corrected?

With all the talk about “MillionTreesNYC” in our city, as one blogger wrote, it’s really “OneMillionDeadTrees”. Another p.r. ruse put forth by our Mayor — the plan lacks any built-in initiative to maintain the “million” trees planted on neighborhood streets.

For the perpetually dying trees that line the Washington Square Park Fountain, it’s a bit more complex. It’s known that the design is killing these trees, and yet no one will speak up within the Parks Department as the designer of the park is greatly protected within the city agency. Community Board 2 will not address it (the Parks Committee of the Community Board is chaired by a former Parks Dept staffer whose job now is dependent on the Hudson River Trust, which is tied to the Parks Department) and local Council Member Margaret Chin is hands off.

How many more trees lining the famous Washington Square fountain have to die?

Source of the problem: the tree 'pit'

For a few months up until July, there were three dead trees lining the fountain (of eight total). Two of those locations had trees replanted and died three times in succession.

Now those locations are vacant, likely awaiting a fourth try by the Parks Department at getting these trees to miraculously live. There is no way they can live unless the design itself is changed. Experts in landscape and construction will support this.

Of course, it must again be noted that these young trees took the place of healthy, living, old trees that had been there over 40 years, chopped down as they were inconveniently in the way of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to relocate the fountain 22 feet east to align with the Arch.

A professional pointed out to me yesterday that it is no coincidence that this tree south of the Arch died immediately after the heavy rain fall. There is no proper drainage for those trees within those tree pits (also connected to the use of the structural soil I was originally informed), based on George Vellonakis’s design, so that last tremendously heavy rainstorm, the water could not drain, sending the tree cascading to its death basically drowning.

When I mentioned the improper drainage to Mr. Vellonakis back in December 2009 at a Washington Square Park Task Force meeting (note: those Task Force meetings have since ceased), he looked at me incredulously and with a bit of disdain and said “there is no drainage problem.”

Well, there is and there always was.

Two of Seven Newly Planted Trees Surrounding the Washington Square Park Fountain Have Died — Is the Cause the Design? + WSP Task Force Meeting Update

Dying Tree Lining Fountain, Since Removed

Last week’s meeting of Washington Square Park Task Force/Community Board 2 Parks Committee on December 2nd provided minimal new information about Phase II (currently in progress) and Phase III of the Park’s redesign.

Another meeting of the WSP Task Force is scheduled for February 2010 at which the NYC Parks Department will be prepared to present information on Phases II and III since they admitted they were not equipped to do so at the December 2nd meeting.

[Update: This meeting did not happen; it was the infamous meeting where the blueprints for Phase II were dropped off on a table with no discussion. It was a CB2 Parks Committee meeting; the Task force did not meet.]

There was one item of note: A brief discussion on why two of the new trees planted around the Washington Square Park Fountain died earlier this year. Landscape designer George Vellonakis insisted that there is “no drainage problem” and that it was just a result of the construction (which is troubling, if so, also).

I encountered a landscape architect at the park one day in August when the two trees were being dug up and removed who informed me that the (new) design is not appropriate for proper water drainage with structural soil and that this diminishes (perhaps eliminates) the tree’s ability to survive.

Seven of the trees that lined the Fountain (close to forty years old) were axed because of the Bloomberg Administration’s desire to relocate the Washington Square Park Fountain 22 feet east so that it would align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. The Fountain had been in its previous location since 1871.

The true test will be if the new trees planted survive. If they don’t, let’s hope that the Parks Department will take some corrective action.  It seems wrong to sacrifice living trees for a potentially flawed design.

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