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Getting in shape to keep township trees in good shape

Junior Arborist Emily Yeung (middle) is joined by volunteer tree pruners in Elmira Colleen Jack and Shannon Purves-Smith. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

Long a cause for volunteers in the community, the greenery in Elmira will be getting some additional help this year with the start of a citizens’ tree-pruning group in the township.

Part of Woolwich’s greening initiative, which launched earlier this spring, the group of volunteers are being trained to carefully groom the township’s trees and keep them growing strong.

The group of volunteers will be labouring over the summer in Elmira to trim wayward branches off trees along township roads, with the goal of eventually spreading the program outwards to other communities in Woolwich.

“We’re following a similar outline to a program that was implemented in Elora. And essentially, we just want to get some people out and get help to maintain the trees that get put in,” said Emily Yeung, a junior arborist and student working with the township and volunteers over the summer.

A series of training sessions were held for community members interested in joining Elmira’s dedicated team of citizen tree pruners, teaching them the ins and outs of tree care. Now, the group of some 23 volunteers will be applying their lessons to caring for Elmira’s greenery, and perhaps their own backyards as well.

“We just go out with them and prune a couple of trees and really kind of teach them the ropes and what it takes. Because pruning isn’t a black-and-white process: there’s more than one right answer,” explained Yeung.

Rather than a simple chopping of branches, there’s an art to finely pruning and maintaining a tree. Remove too much, and the tree can become damaged in the process, while taking off too little leaves the tree in the same vulnerable situation it started in.

“There’s a lot to it,” noted Colleen Jack, who, along with Shannon Purves-Smith, signed up to be citizen pruners. The pair have had experience pruning trees before, but say they were surprised by what they picked up at the training sessions, including the likes of the 25 per cent rule.

“Basically, when it comes trimming anything really, any plant, even grass cutting, you don’t want to remove more than a third of the tree at a time every couple of years, or depending on the growth rate,” explained Yeung.

“Just to maintain the health of the tree, so it doesn’t get more taken off than it can recover in a reasonable amount of time. So we say a third, but really when it comes to most trees, we want to be a little more conservative than that so we say 25 per cent.”

The township isn’t looking for any more tree pruners to join right now, as training is mostly complete for the current group. But Woolwich will be advertising additional ways to help along the greening initiative, which ultimately hopes to see tree cover – or the area covered by tree canopy in the township – reach 30 per cent, up from the current 16.3 per cent. Though a rural municipality, Woolwich in fact has less of a canopy than, for instance, Toronto, which boasts coverage of 26.6 per cent.


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