As the emerald ash borer continues its march through Minnesota, bringing with it near-certain death sentences for most every ash tree in the metro area, some cities are testing ways to encourage residents to plant new trees outside their homes.
Rather than continuing its tree rebates, Maplewood is thinking about hosting a tree sale as a festive community event. And it’s looking west to Minnetonka for inspiration.
“We’re thinking maybe we’d like to be more aggressive,” said Melinda Coleman, Maplewood city manager. “We just want to make it really easy for residents who have ash trees to get trees to replant.”
While Minneapolis, St. Louis Park and Plymouth all offer residents some form of rebate or discount on trees, Minnetonka has long sponsored the most popular local tree program.
The west metro city holds a tree sale once a year, normally around Arbor Day in the spring, and sells a large number of species — including apple and peach trees — for $40 each.
That’s about half the retail price, and amounts to essentially the same savings offered by Maplewood’s rebate program. But since 2007 Minnetonka has sold 15,000 trees, far more than Maplewood has had planted using rebates. Minnetonka outpaces even Minneapolis, which sold 13,000 trees over the same time period.
Most cities have plans to cut down and replace trees infected by the ash borer in parks, medians and public land. The problem has been what to do about replacing the canopy lost on private property.
Hennepin County is offering grants this winter “to enhance the tree canopy” through tree plantings and removal of ash trees. Schools, nonprofits, cities and affordable housing properties are eligible for the funding, which ranges from $1,000 to $50,000.
Maplewood started its rebate program in 2008 as a way to replace trees lost to Dutch elm disease and oak wilt. Under the program, residents can buy a tree at a nursery and the city will reimburse them for half the cost, up to $100. But it hasn’t been used as much as officials hoped.
Maplewood residents have planted just 480 trees since 2008, and almost half those were planted in the first two years of the rebate program. Only 27 trees were planted last year, and 17 the year before.
It’s hard to say why Minnetonka’s program is so popular, said Jo Colleran, the city’s natural resources manager.
“Whenever I talk to people about the reason they live in Minnetonka, they say they love the woodlands,” Colleran said. “People here really value the natural environment and love having trees in their yard.”
Minnetonka has a more robust natural resource division than many nearby cities, actively inspecting trees for diseases or infestations like the ash borer and working with homeowners to cut them down to slow the spread.
The city’s tree sale is also just plain fun, Colleran said.
“People wait months for their tree and they come and line up for it,” she said. “It’s festive. They’re picking up a tree that is already 6 to 8 feet tall, which is a really nice tree for $40.”
Tree sales have some drawbacks. Residents don’t get the same warranties or options they would if they bought directly from a nursery. And there’s less flexibility with timing when city trees are delivered once a year.
But it’s the idea of the fun and attention of an annual event that might spur Maplewood to change its program from rebates to a tree sale if it helps get more trees in the ground.
“I don’t know where we’ll end up,” Coleman said. “We might be able to try to tie the event into Earth Day or other activities. We want to see what our options are.”