The Potomac Highlands Watershed School 

PHWS & UTC Projects 2011

Wildwood Middle School, WV

Urban Tree Planting

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On April 11, 2011 ten Redbud trees were planted at Wildwood Middle School.  With the help of Cacapon Institute and Wildwood science teacher Carolyn Thomas, the students from Environmental Club led the planting. 


The Wildwood Environmental Club has been focusing on watershed protection and river investigations in a series of lessons led by Cacapon Institute staff.  They learned that trees provide many benefits including reducing stormwater runoff pollution.  Stormwater runoff is rainwater that cannot soak naturally into the ground because of impervious surfaces.  It causes unnaturally large volumes of rainwater to go down storm drains or directly into streams.  Stormwater runoff pollution causes erosion and leads to sediment pollution, soil that gets into streams and destroys habitat.  (Check out the Sedimentation Blues to learn more!)  Stormwater runoff is hotter than natural rainwater and often has pollution such as oil, gas, chemicals and metals. 

How do trees reduce stormwater runoff pollution?  A study by Virginia Tech in 2009 found that a healthy shade tree can absorb up to 75% of the first inch of rainfall.  Even trees growing miles away from a stream will help keep the stream healthy by catching the rain and reducing the amount of water going down storm drains.  Urban and suburban areas have large areas of impervious surfaces, surfaces where it is impossible for the water to percolate into the ground.  When the rainwater runs off of impervious surfaces, instead of soaking down into the ground, it becomes runoff and speeds up to cause erosion.  Water running off of roof tops and asphalt surfaces is also much hotter than rain reaching a stream in a natural setting.  So, by planting trees on the school grounds to catch the rain and reduce runoff, the Environmental Club is helping to protect local streams.




Students also learned the most important, and first step to planting, is to locate the root collar.  The root collar (also called the trunk flare) is the area of the tree where the trunk and root meet.  If a tree is planted too deep, the root collar will be buried.  This is dangerous for the tree because the root collar is very fragile.  If it is underground it can rot or insects can get under the bark and kill the tree.  On the other hand, the top roots of a tree need access to air and the moisture near the ground’s surface.  To plant a tree correctly, the top root should be at, or just above, the surface of the ground.  Look at naturally growing trees in a forest and you’ll see how the top of the trees’ roots are above the ground.  In the process of packaging and shipping trees from the nursery the root collar will become buried.  That is why the USDA Forest Service recommends removing soil from around the trunk of packaged trees before planting.  If the soil where the tree will be planted in compacted or heavy with clay, The International Society of Arborculture recommends planting the tree with the root collar 3” above ground.  For complete instructions on tree planting visit the USDA Forest Service Tree Owners Manual.


Cacapon Institute wishes to thank the WV Division of Forestry and Jefferson County, especially the School Board and Facilities Maintenance, for their assistance.  Wildwood’s planting is associated with the Jefferson County-wide Urban Tree Canopy enhancement project that Cacapon Institute, and the WV Potomac Tributary Strategy Implementation Team has been developing since 2009.  With funding from the Chesapeake Bay Program, and technical support from the USDA Forest Service, a tree cover assessment was completed for all of Jefferson County.  Trees are being protected and planted to make Jefferson a more livable community, reduce stormwater runoff pollution, and improve air quality.  Click here to see A Map Of Jefferson Counties Tree Cover


This project was supported by grants from the Chesapeake Bay Program, the Potomac Watershed Partnership, and NOAA-Bay Watershed Education and Training.