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Tree businesses work to restore urban forest

  • Mark Clean, a Specialist Forrester with the Georgia Forestry Division, inspects a tree in Jaycees Park which fell due to winds from Hurricane Matthew. (Josh Galemore/Savannah Morning News)
  • Savannah Tree Foundation Executive Director Karen Jenkins. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
  • Victory Gardens co-owner Kerry Shaw examines a River Birch that will be planted soon. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
  • Victory Gardens co-owner Reid Archer examines a pear tree ready to be planted. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
  • Victory Gardens co-owners Reid Archer, left, with a pear tree and Kerry Shaw with a River Birch ready to be planted in the Savannah area. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)

Iconic for its trees, namely live oaks and gum, 36 percent of Chatham County is shaded with canopy, and the urban forest is a business opportunity for skilled landscapers and arborists.

With autumn’s arrival, landscapers and arborists were already working hard since it’s the opportune season to plant new trees, enhancing the Savannah landscape. Hurricane Matthew brought unexpected work and challenges.

“Trees provide shade, improve air quality, and absorb storm water. Trees also provide aesthetic benefits,” Savannah Tree Foundation’s executive director, Karen Jenkins, explained. “Eighty percent of the world population lives in a metropolitan area, so it’s important to have trees to provide us with the benefits that we need as humans.”

A significant portion of Savannah’s tree population was injured by Hurricane Matthew, and Jenkins emphasized the importance of trained personnel and safety measures when hiring a company for tree removal.

“I have seen so many people using chainsaws wearing no eye protection and no hard hat,” Jenkins commented. “I know people are busy and they want to hire anyone who can take their [fallen] trees away. My advice is to speak with a certified arborist. That’s rule number one. And number two is safety.”

Shem Kendrick, a partner at certified arborist company Coastal Arbor Care, said that after Hurricane Matthew, the company stayed in Savannah throughout the storm and provided 24-hour response.

“Immediately after the storm, we focused mainly on all of the trees that were directly on houses, destroying houses. We used cranes to remove the trees. We worked 98 hours in the first seven days. It was a lot of devastation,” said Kendrick.

Kendrick explained his company is now working on removing trees that are partially uprooted from the storm. “We have to remove these because it’s just a matter of time that with rain, the trees will weaken more.”

He advises people to check their trees by looking at the bases of the trees on their property to see if they’re uprooting partially. “These trees could continue to uproot and fall over,” Kendrick said.

Coastal Arbor Care doesn’t generally tree removal, except for removing diseased or dead trees.

“We do trimming for structural integrity and the health of the tree; we do a lot of planting,” said Kendrick. “Now is a good time to plant because we lost a lot of trees that were well over 100 years old. It’s going to take a long time to replace the canopy that we lost.”

The Savannah Tree Foundation, whose mission is to preserve, protect, and plant trees, educates Chatham County residents on the importance and maintenance of trees.

“We do our work through community tree planting events with other partners, including the local government, schools, churches, non-profits, and public entities who want to be responsible for trees,” said Jenkins. “We plant 100-300 trees a year; it varies based on need and the availability of grant funds.”

In October, the non-profit donated 150 trees to the public at Savannah’s Food Day Festival. On Dec. 10, the foundation will execute its third tree planting project at Hunter Army Airfield.

“Now is a great time to replant trees, specifically those trees who drop their leaves like oaks and maples, because it’s cooler,” Jenkins said.

Local landscaping companies have been assisting people to re-do their landscapes and plant trees and shrubs, which were damaged by the storm.

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls from people who want to re-do the parts that were damaged. We’re helping them plant new trees. The makeup of their landscapes are different now,” said Kerry Shay, co-owner of landscaping company Victory Gardens. “For us, it’s sad to see these majestic trees going down. But it’s an opportunity too because they could be invasive trees or trees not well suited to their environments. The hurricane gave Savannah a chance to plant a tree that will be a legacy for the future of the property.”

Shay said that many of Victory Gardens’ customers are planting trees now so that the trees will be ready next summer. “Every tree, we want them to live forever, but every tree has a certain lifetime. We get a lot of enjoyment out of mature trees. Now we can enjoy new trees being planted.”


Finding new uses for old wood

When removing trees, many times the wood is delivered to garbage dumps. But there are other ways to handle fallen trees, Shay explained, such as repurposing the trees. “One of the biggest challenges in repurposing trees is that the wood pieces have to be long enough to mill,” said Shay. “Some of these tree companies have to cut them in really small sections, which makes them harder to use later on. There will be opportunities where trees can be cut into large chunks and then be transported to make something beautiful.”

Shay said that the big disconnect in the tree repurposing process is the transportation of the trees themselves.

“The companies contracted with FEMA to remove the trees and debris are going as fast as they can. They’re not necessarily trying to save the trees. Their number one goal is to make it safe; they’re doing their job. But without any organization in the middle, meaning someone to broker- someone getting paid to pick up big chunks of wood and take them to a craftsman- it’s a more difficult process.”

“Ramsey Khalidi at Southern Pine Co. is the reclamation guru. He uses reclaimed materials and salvages them. He uses pilings from the Savannah River. I saw him put the word out through Facebook that if anyone has downed trees, something really valuable like oak or hickory, Southern Pine Co. will take them,” said Shay.

For selecting trees to plant, Herb Creek Landscape Supply, a locally owned independent garden center, placed orders for large trees after the hurricane. “We figured after the hurricane when we could open again, that we needed to place orders for bigger trees. You can’t just grow a 60-foot live oak. We’ve started getting in more trees and palms,” said Herb Creek Landscape Supply manager Kelly Watson.

The company is a supplier and their sister company, Lowcountry Landscapes, is a landscaping company.

Watson also encouraged fall planting.

“You still have enough warm days to have the roots come out and get established — the roots don’t have to contend with hot weather like you would in the spring.

When the roots go dormant in the winter, they can wake up in the spring and start growing and not have to worry about the roots in the heat of the summer,” said Watson.