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County cultivates tree plantings to increase Richmond Highway canopy

Trees at the corner of Jefferson Manor Park off Telegraph Road (photo by Brandi Bottalico)

Fairfax County is looking to grow a tree planting program that has resulted in 139 trees being planted along the Richmond Highway corridor since last year.

The “Residential Tree Planting Pilot Project” is a county-run program, in partnership with the D.C.-based nonprofit Casey Trees, providing free trees to residents in census tracts with low tree canopy coverage.

The three tracts targeted for the pilot program are all along the Richmond Highway corridor and within the Mount Vernon and Franconia Districts.

Since April 2021, residents living in those areas have planted 139 free trees on their properties. While a bit short of the 150-tree goal, the county has deemed the pilot program enough of a success to make it a “recurring program,” per an update to the Board of Supervisors last month.

The aim of the permanent program is to expand the tree canopy in other census tracts. A less expansive tree canopy often coincides with more “economically vulnerable neighborhoods,” Department of Public Works and Environmental Services spokesperson Sharon North wrote FFXnow in an email.

With that consideration, the program will be targeting census blocks in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Fairfax County during its next planting cycle said North.

Money for the program will come out of the county’s Tree Preservation and Planting Fund and will be managed by a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. The fund’s current balance is $208,000, North said. Any additional funding recommendations will go to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors as part of its annual budget process.

Nearby localities like Arlington have similar programs to increase tree canopy in neighborhoods where it’s insufficient, which contributes to heat and temperature increases.

Back in 2021, Fairfax County staff identified 4,000 single-family and multi-family addresses within the three census tracts that would benefit from increased tree canopy.

Casey Trees devised a marketing campaign that sent out letters and greeting cards advertising the availability of free trees to those residents, who ultimately planted 139 trees.

That’s about a 3.5% success rate — higher than the industry average of 2%.

A majority of the trees planted were medium to large, including shingle oaks, river birches, hackberry trees, and honeylocust ‘shademasters.’

“Larger trees provide more shading, cooling, stormwater control, and related benefits over their smaller counterparts,” Casey Trees said in a report. “Not just to the property where the tree is planted but also to the neighborhood at large.”

The pilot program cost the county about $60,000, approximately $11,000 in marketing materials and close to $49,000 for the actual trees. It cost $350 per planted tree.

The report also provided a few recommendations to help grow the program.

Proposals included increasing the number of trees provided to one particular lot from three to five, noting that “residents often requested more,” as well as sending out arborists for site visits to increase education and displaying “free tree” yard signs in eligible neighborhoods.

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