In previous posts we've discussed the sad state our home was in when we purchased it, our slow journey to bring a level of respect back to the house's facade, and the downward spiral it has been in since last year after a series of unfortunate events.

As part of our vow to bring back the curb appeal (read: sexiness of our home) our house seemed to have lost over just a few short months, we committed ourselves to several items. One of which involved removing the construction sign and orange cone that had adorned the front of our home since the elimination of our tree last summer.

The previous tree had stood prominently in its location in front of our home for roughly 60+ years. It had grown tall and strong, and was one of the few lasting and significant trees on our block. It provided shade from the mid-day to early evening sun, as well as an enjoyable vista from within our master bedroom. It was actually one of the very pleasing elements of the front of our house, until recently.

Two summers ago, like Jude Law's hairline of late, we started to notice some thinning on top. We looked around online to see what the cause could be, but didn't find anything useful. We finally decided that the tree had seen better days because it hadn't been cared for in a while, so we put in a request for the city to come out and trim it.

Since this tree is on the sidewalk in front of our house, it is within city property and must be handled by the city. The guys that came out to trim the tree did their best, but delivered a grim prognosis. They told us that our grand and significant tree, probably only had about two to three years left.

How could it be? Surely he was wrong, the tree looked so good after they trimmed it, but he was quite right. The next several seasons showed how fragile the tree was. Each spring, leaves would arrive later and more feeble. Branches, previously full and thick, began dropping during storms, and later, came crashing down during sunny, wind-free days. From the following photo, you can see how sparse the top of the tree was getting.

One day, in April 2010, a neighbor was walking his small dog under our tree and was narrowly missed by a large falling branch. Wendy decided it was time for the tree to go. She wrote the city arborist's office the next day and shortly thereafter they had removed our tree. As you can see from the remaining stump (below), the middle section of the tree had rotted, leaving the tree in a very precarious state.

Luckily, the tree was removed roughly one week before the most significant storm of 2010 rolled through. This thunderstorm came out of nowhere and packed hurricane-force winds. Grand trees all along the oldest section of Old Town were lost in the storm. I'm relatively confident that if we hadn't have had our tree removed, it probably would have fallen during the storm. Here is a little taste of what we experienced that day.

At roughly this point, Wendy's saga to get our tree replaced began. Alexandria has a program that allows residents to have trees replanted by the city. Residents are even allowed to pick the species of tree from a long list of qualifying tree. Wendy kicked off the process with a single email to the city, which eventually turned into many emails (we were up to 17 at last count) to the city's arborist, coordination for stump removal, parking sign removal, water meter repair, and many pleas to replace the tree. The front of our house simply looked sparse and barren without it.

The biggest hurdle to replanting the tree proved to be the city's water meter, located to the side of the trunk but within the previous tree's root structure. The city had to come out several times to inspect and repair the area to ensure the water meter would remain accessible once a new tree was in place. Each time, guys would show up, do a little work, stare at the hole, and then figure out who else needed to come inspect.

Though assurances from the arborist were that we would have a tree, our hope was beginning to wane. Wendy kept emailing the city to make sure they knew we hadn't forgotten, but we were getting to the point where we were trying to figure out if we should purchase and plant a tree ourselves...and if we were even allowed to do so. To add insult to injury, the water meter had become more of a garbage container and debris collection area than anything else. I actually found three empty beer cans in there at one point.

But last week, all of our bad news suddenly changed to good when something magical happened. I was working from home all day in our office in the back half of the house. Working diligently, I hadn't moved from the office all day. Lulu, who normally keeps me company, had been running around the house most of the day, but I didn't think anything of it. At about 3:30 pm, I needed a little break, so I walked to the front of the house. When I looked out of our bedroom window, I thought I was just bleary-eyed from hours of staring at my computer screen. Were my eyes deceiving me, or had a tree just appeared in front of our house?

Sure enough, while I had been working, Lulu was trying to alert me to the work going on. I should pay more attention to her attempts to notify me of goings on, because she's proving to be as good as Lassie. The city had showed up, dug a hole to plant, and installed a rather large tree...all right under my nose and I was none the wiser. At least Timmy wasn't stuck in a well...or in the water meter well.

I excitedly called Wendy at work, snapped a photo of our new tree and emailed it her way, then started searching on various websites for the best methods to care for a newly planted tree. Given that we had worked a long time to get this tree as well as tolerated road construction paraphernalia in front of our house for eight months, there is no way I was going to let this tree die.

The main point I came across in my research has to do with ensuring proper moisture in the root ball. I've seen slow release watering bags all over the area after new trees are planted. In addition, several websites outline this aspect of horticulture care as an excellent way to ensure proper root establishment. I found a bag available on Amazon for just a little over $20, so I decided to order it. It's the Treegator Original 20-Gallon Slow Release Watering Bag for Trees, and it showed up on Saturday morning. I immediately wrapped the tree's base with the watering bag and filled it up with the hose.

The bag holds 20 gallons and slowly releases the water to the tree over the course of the day. This watering bag also protects the base of the tree from mulch being piled up on it, helps reduce the shock of tree transplantation, and prevents water waste through general runoff during watering. I'm very hopeful this will help to establish the tree for a very long life.

Ironically, while I was filling up the bag, the city's arborist stopped by to drop off one of the bags. Hopefully he was able to see first hand that we're serious about tree care, and not just nagging city residents. During his visit, he gave us watering advice while the tree establishes itself. We're supposed to fill the watering bag two times per week (three during the heat of the summer) for the next two growing seasons.

Now that the construction signs have been removed, our tree has been replaced, the front light has been fixed, and the urns have been replanted and are beginning to bloom, the front of our home has started to reclaim an element of respectability that was lost. We're hopeful we'll be no longer identified by new neighbors as "the house that has the construction cone out front." 

Our curb appeal 2.0 project is well underway. Despite this progress, there's still more work to be done. We now need to focus on the area immediately surrounding the tree for beautification. It won't be easy because of the thick roots that remain from the old tree, but we're inspired to take it on. We'll surely keep you up on our progress. But until then, here is the new look of the front of our home. 

The tree may not be quite as grand as the previous one, but it sure adds a level of comfort and softness to the front of an otherwise stark facade. We're also please that the tree is much taller than we expected. We're going to be sure to train it to grow beside the power lines, and not right through them, otherwise the power company will constantly lop the top of the tree off.

Any advice from our readers on how we can either care for this new tree or dig up the old root structure is greatly appreciated. I think the old roots are going to be a real ordeal.

P.S. We'd like to extend a huge thank you to John, the city arborist! We love the new tree and are quite appreciative of all of your coordination efforts.

P.P.S. Happy Memorial Day and thank you to all of our friends, neighbors, and strangers who fight for and are married to our nation's armed forces.

Comments 2


5/30/2011 at 1:21 PM
You guys need to gussy up that flower bed, and plant some annuals around the new tree! Will Alexandria let you plant flowers there? Perhaps a wrought iron border around the flower bed like the ones we have in the could even match your new iron stairs!
6/27/2011 at 9:21 AM
Just a comment about the old root structure ... it should have been removed before the new tree was planted.

From Renegade Gardener -
"The reason it’s not a good idea to plant a tree where a tree you had removed once stood is that stump grinding rarely gets all the stump of a large tree. Way down, there might be a little left. And grinding doesn’t get much of the old primary roots out of the way, they’re still there just outside the grinding area. Finally, stump grinding results in a large pile of fresh wood chips mixed with soil. Try to plant a tree there, and as the wood chips start to decompose, they burn all the nitrogen out of the soil. So the new tree, even if a small whip in a container, is trying to grow in contaminated, nitrogen-deprived soil, surrounded by large, old primary roots that take a year to die and twenty years to decompose. Underneath the new tree there may be solid remnants of the old tree stump, polished shiny by the blade from the grinding machine. It’s not a very healthy start."

Anyway, I hope that your tree does great and you might want to ask the arborist about fertilizing the tree once it gets established.

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