An adage poses this question, “When’s the best time to plant a tree?” Answer: “20 years ago.”
All trees start small, and no tree lives forever. Aerial photos of Newark from 85 years ago show that much of the area surrounding Old Newark was farm fields and largely bare of trees. In 1937, most of the trees seen in the photos were those lining Main Street and College Avenue.
Last fall, one the largest remaining trees on Main Street had to be taken down. Believed to be 90 years old, it was likely a very young tree in that 1937 photo. The University of Delaware is committed to planting a tree to replace it. By far, the largest trees in view are the elms that once lined the campus green. Planted about 100 years ago, a few of those amazing elms can still be found south of the library.
A champion tree on Chestnut Hill Road
The most prominent feature along East Chestnut Hill Road, between South College Avenue and Library Avenue is a lone white oak on a hill of grass with two lanes of busy roadway on either side.
In 2021, state forester Bill Seybold came to measure the tree to determine if it qualified for a spot on “Big Trees of Delaware,” a list maintained by the Delaware Forest Service. At 80 feet high, a crown spread of 107 feet and a circumference of 17 feet, 2 inches, the Chestnut Hill oak tree comes in at No. 9 of the 15 white oaks on record. Currently, the largest known white oak in Delaware is 20 feet in circumference and 90 feet tall.
Big Trees of Delaware
The first record of Delaware’s biggest trees appears in the 1939 publication of “Delaware Trees,” written by state forester,William Taber. The brief list in Taber’s book features a white oak in Frederica with a circumference of 22 feet.
The current Big Tree program began in earnest in 1984 when Walt Gabel, a state forester, and Charles Mohr, a naturalist with the Division of Parks and Recreation, compiled a list of 284 of the state’s largest known trees. In the years since that first list was created, the Delaware Forest Service has published five editions of “Big Trees of Delaware.” The program’s goal is to spark interest and appreciation for trees. Read the list at delawaretrees.com/bigtrees.
Another Newark Champion Tree
In the fall of 2022, a Delaware Master Naturalist, working in a remnant patch of woods on Willa Road in Newark, came upon a sweet gum tree that struck her as notably large. After taking a preliminary measurement of the circumference, she contacted the forest service to nominate it for the big tree list. With a circumference of 11.5 feet, a height of 102 feet and a 94-foot crown spread, this Newark tree is now on record as the third-largest sweetgum in the state and the largest in New Castle County.
The next best time to plant a tree is now
It’s likely there are a few more champions in Newark. Most of the largest trees we see today were planted in the 1950s when farmland gave way to developments. Due to two blights – emerald ash borer and bacterial leaf scorch – large numbers of oaks, maples and ash are declining well before their time. The City of Newark Parks and Recreation will have another tree give away this spring, date to be announced on the City’s website. This Arbor Day, plant a future Delaware Champion tree.
Care for trees large and small
- Mulch a wide area around your trees to protect them from machinery.
- Keep mowers and string trimmers away from the roots and flare of the tree.
- Leaf mulch is ideal.
- Wood mulch should not touch the tree and should not be any deeper than 4 inches.
- Trees like company. Plant more than one or plant some shrubs nearby. A group of trees and shrubs creates a beneficial micro-climate for themselves and for wildlife.
- English ivy smothers trees and it is a known reservoir for bacterial leaf scorch. Cut ivy and kill it at ground level. Leave the vines to dry and die on the tree. Pulling can seriously damage the bark.
The Conservation Advisory Commission was created in 1977 to advise the city of Newark in the development, management and protection of its natural resources, with appropriate consideration of Newark’s human and economic resources. It meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in council chambers. The public is invited to attend and provide input. Commission members provide this monthly column to inform area residents on conservation issues.
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