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crumb trail: Home >> Whistle Online >> Archives >> Sept. 15, 2008

Caring for Tech’s oldest residents

Robert Nesmith
& Marketing

Trees around campus

“We don’t have too many pine trees,” Ide said. “We plant slow-growing, more sustainable and larger canopy trees.”

— In the President’s Glade, a 54-inch American beech bears initials and the date “1956,” as well as the name “Brown” and “1925.” Estimated at 100 feet, it’s likely more than 100 years old, Roberts said.

— To the left of the front entrance, a live oak grows. It’s old, but not that large for its age, Ide says. “It’s unusual for Atlanta. They tend to grow in more humid climates, like Savannah.”

— Near the driveway of the house, a 100-year-old Southern red oak is in decline, Roberts and Ide say. “There’s too much asphalt [near it],” Roberts said. There is a water valve in the street, but it’s not enough for a tree that size.

— As should be expected, many of the trees around the administration buildings are fairly old, in the 75- to 85-year-old range. On a plaque off Cherry Street in front of the Tech Tower, an old photograph of the early administration buildings clearly shows the white oak trees planted in a line on the North Avenue side of the Tower.

Georgia Tech currently has two full-time staff members providing care for nearly 6,000 of the Institute’s residents. Of course, it helps that none of these residents actually move, excepting a strong breeze.

According to the Department of Facilities Landscape Manager Hyacinth Ide, a 2004-2005 report tallied more than 5,000 trees on campus. Ide and Facilities foreman George Roberts say that during the last couple of years, probably close to 1,000 more have been planted.

“In a normal year without a drought, we try and plant 50 trees in-house and 260 trees as new development annually,” Roberts said. While some of the planting would equal new trees, in some cases—especially with a drought—new saplings are planted in an effort to replace dying older trees. The goal, he said, is to replace the same amount that was lost. “If you take down a 20-caliper tree [20-inch diameter], you should replace that with 10 2-caliper trees.” A tree’s diameter, Roberts said, is measured at about five feet high.

The campus has two dedicated employees—that’s one for roughly 3,000 trees—a certified arborist and an equipment operator, whose main functions are watering and inspecting trees. And with the drought, this has become a necessary task. These two, instead of embarking on long-term care for the trees, spend two to two-and-a-half days a week watering. Ide says the younger trees especially need the attention. “We just don’t have enough manpower to do what a full tree program calls for,” he said. “It’s critical work.”

  The largest tree on campus sits near the Student Center Commons
  The largest tree on campus, a 66-inch-diameter willow oak just east of the Student Center Commons, is also easily the oldest at more than 100 years old. Its canopy, Roberts said, is more than 100 feet wide. It wasn’t always in good shape, though. When Ide arrived at Tech nine years ago, he said it was in a rapid state of decline. Some care and tending to it brought it back around.

Because of heavy foot traffic around trees, which in turn compresses the dirt, Roberts says groundskeepers use a deep feeder system—a long needle to feed the root systems. “We feed all our trees this way.”

Some tree losses are literally a result of growing pains, as some construction efforts have resulted in the irreversible damaging of trees or their root systems. “We have hired a full-time landscape project manager in Facilities Design and Construction to help with landscape design and manage all contract landscape installations,” Ide said. “It’s getting better.” And Ide says his office is talking with the Georgia Forestry Commission to consider Tech for a Tree Campus USA designation, which recognizes campuses with an effective tree-management program.

Roberts estimates roughly 80 trees are in the 75- to 100-year-old range, although it’s difficult to determine while the tree is still alive. “Old pictures act as a good measurement of what trees were there [years ago],” he said.

The drought, construction and just plain old age has called for more than a few trees to be removed. A large, 80-year-old tree near the stadium was removed a few months ago. “It had become dangerous because it had decayed from the inside,” Roberts said. “There just wasn’t enough water.”

“Clay doesn’t hold water real well,” Ide said. “The drought has made the trees more susceptible to disease and insects.”

“If you see the tops start to die, the tree is suffering,” Roberts said. “We could probably use four people dedicated to just the trees.”

In addition to the money they receive for planting new trees, Ide and Roberts said that alumni have donated trees to campus. Alumnus Charlie Jones, for example, donated 165 trees to the M building’s landscaping in 2006. Other groups, such as the Arbor Day Foundation, will donate up to 100 trees when the Institute is recognized as a Tree Campus USA.



Approved by the Office of External Affairs on 09/24/97
Last Modified: September 15, 2008