DC’s Famous Cherry Trees: Keeping Them Healthy in the Face of Pests, Floods, and More

a collage of cherry trees showing pink and white flowers
A collage of cherry (Prunus spp.) blossoms, some of which can be found in Washington DC. The species and varieties vary in blossom color, size, and shape. Credit: LiveJapan

Just across Maryland’s border, millions of people flock to Washington, DC at this time of year to witness the spectacular display of 3,000+ cherry trees in bloom around the Tidal Basin. Keeping these famous trees healthy from pests, predicting the timing of peak bloom, and mitigating the threat of rising tides from climate change are among the challenges that need to be addressed to keep these cherished plants in top form for people to enjoy now and for many years to come.

Dr. Lauren Schmitt, an ecologist working with the Burghardt lab in the University of Maryland’s Entomology Department, gives us a close look at the history of these magnificent trees, how pests are managed using an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, how peak bloom times are predicted, and how some of the non-pest threats such as soil compaction and flooding are being addressed.

Read her two part-series on DC’s Famous Cherry Trees:

Part 1: A Case Study For IPM 

Part 2: Variation In The Trees And Varied Threats To Their Health 

Lauren Schmitt, Ph.D. is an ecologist working at the intersection of ecosystem ecology and community ecology. A member of the University of Maryland Burghardt Lab, her research focuses on linking biodiversity and ecosystem function. Much of her work takes place in a forest diversity experiment, “BiodiversiTREE” to assess how tree diversity shapes communities and ecosystem processes.

Dead Trees “Snag” Lofty Praise as Habitat

A snag at Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, North Tract. Photo: N. Allred

Chad Hanson, a University of California-Davis researcher and Sierra Club board member observes, “We are trapped by an outdated cultural idea that a healthy forest is one with nothing but green trees. An ecologically healthy forest has dead trees, broken tops, and down logs.”

Over the last several years, you may have noticed an increase in dead and dying trees in our watershed, particularly oaks. There are a number of factors at play, including soil compaction from development, old trunk wounds, storm damage, environmental stressors such as heat and drought, opportunistic diseases and insects, and just plain old age. If you think the only response to a dead tree is to cut it down, think again!

chickadee explores a tree cavity
Insect-feeding songbirds like chickadees find food and shelter in snags. Photo: Christa R.

It has been estimated that dead trees, called snags when they are still upright, and trees with decaying wood provide important habitat for about 25 percent of the forest wildlife species in the northeastern United States. Add aquatic species and that number climbs even higher.

Did you know that more than eighty birds in North America are cavity-nesters, include 10 species of owls, 7 ducks, 2 falcons, all 21 woodpeckers, and about 40 songbirds? They raise their young in hollowed out sections of dead and dying trees. In addition to providing a place for birds to nest, cavities also protect birds from predators and offer shelter from the elements. Dead branches serve as a perch from which birds can survey their surroundings, hunt, eat, and dry their wings and rest. If that weren’t enough, a dead tree offers a smorgasbord to insect-eating birds and other animals, with holes, depressions and cracks that double as places to store seeds, nuts and other food.

red-bellied woodpecker in a dead tree
Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). Photo: Lip Kee

Logs on the ground also provide a bounty of food and shelter for a range of critters. Hollow logs provide cover and protection for small mammals like foxes, rabbits, skunks and raccoons. The wood itself may be home to ants, beetles, and carpenter bees that tunnel into it, while bark beetles build extensive chambers under the bark. These insect residents are, in turn, a good source of protein for turtles, toads and lizards. No walk in the woods is complete without flipping over a log to see what lies beneath –
beetles, worms, centipedes and, if you’re lucky, a salamander. Don’t forget to roll the log back over gently, lest you destroy someone’s happy home. Continue reading

The Garden Hoes Podcast Episode 06 Part 2 – Gardening with Children

Garden Hoes Podcast playerListen to this episode

If you’re teleworking like we are, keeping the little ones entertained while getting everything checked off on your weekly “to do” list can seem impossible. In this special edition, we explore all the fun ways you can include your little ones in your gardening activities.

For parents struggling to find engaging ways to keep children busy and entertained gardening is a great activity to introduce to your kids while you are home. Gardening does not require advanced skill, the perfect raised bed, or a sprawling backyard. Gardening with kids can be as simple as planting seeds in a container (or starting seeds inside) or by reading them a garden-themed children’s book. There countless garden-themed children’s books that work for children of all ages. We discussed some of our all-time favorite books and fun activities to go along with them. The wonder of planting a garden and watching it grow can spark endless questions from your kids. Questions like: Why do plants need the sun to grow? Why are worms in the garden? How do plants “drink” water? Before you know it, you will be talking about soil, compost, and photosynthesis!

We also discussed the Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) and its invasive tendencies. You will hear the name Callery and Bradford used interchangeably, however, ‘Bradford’ was the name of the first cultivar of Callery pear but is often used to refer to the species. Many beautiful native alternatives benefit our birds and butterflies. Visit the UME-Home and Garden Information Center if you would like more information about the Bradford Pear. For more information about Maryland Invasive Plants Prevention and Control visit the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Children’s Gardening Books:

  • The Bad Seed, by Jory John
  • Monsters don’t eat broccoli by Barbara Jean Hick
  • Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens
  • From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons 
  • Up Down & Around by Katherine Ayres
  • I will never not ever eat a tomato by Lauren Child
  • Wiggly Worms at Work by Wendy Pfeffer
  • Velma Gratch and the way cool butterfly by Alan Madison and Kevin Hawkes
  • Gardening With Children, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Guide (for activities)
  • Tree, by Britta Teckentrup (a Fletcher favorite)

Gardening with Kids

The Garden in a Glove activity can be found here. 


Callery Pear: (~21:15)
Native Plant of the Month: “Pinxterbloom Azalea”, or Rhododendron periclymenoides (~25:45)
Bug of the Month: Eastern tent caterpillars (~29:45)

If you have a garden question or topic you like us to talk about you can email us at Gardenhoespodcast@gmail.com

For more information about University of Maryland Extension and these topics, please check out the Home and Garden Information Center website at https://extension.umd.edu/hgic

The Garden Hoes Podcast is brought to you by the University of Maryland Extension. Mikaela Boley- Senior Agent Assoc. (Talbot Co.) for Horticulture, Rachel Rhodes- Agent Assoc. for Horticulture (QA Co), and Emily Zobel- Agriculture Agent (Dorchester Co.).

Listen to this episode
Find all The Garden Hoes episodes

The Garden Hoes Podcast Episode 06 PART 1 – Soil Health and planting trees

Garden Hoes Episode 6Listen to this episode

Hello Listener,

We hope you and your family are safe during this difficult time. Our April episode ended up being rather lengthy, so we decided to turn it into two episodes. So this month you will get twice the Garden Hoes.

In this episode, we welcomed special guest Dr. Nicole Fiorellino, to give us the “dirt” on soil. Dr. Fiorellino is an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in Agronomy with the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. Did you know that different regions around the United States use different methods to analyze soil, or that there is a right and wrong way to collect a soil sample? Dr. Fiorellino walks us through the best ways to get the most out of soil. While you are at it, check out this great video featuring Dr. Fiorellino as she shows you how to collect a soil sample. The University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center also has a great page on soil testing.

We also discussed the “how to’s” on planting trees, shrubs, and perennials. The things you should do before planting, like calling Miss Utility (1-800-257-7777), to check for hidden utilities. We also touched on things that you should look for when picking out plants at a nursery, like how to pick out healthy plants and how to avoid impulse buys.

Example of correctly mulched tree
Example of correctly mulched tree

Did you know there’s a method for planting trees and shrubs? How you dig a hole for your trees and shrubs can greatly impact their survival. Other than digging the proper hole, watering is just as important. One of the most important things to remember is to water plants in the morning. If you water during the heat of the day increases the amount of water last to evaporation by as much as 40%.

Tips and advice for planting trees and shrubs (30:00)
Tip of the Month (45:00)

**NOTE** Native Plant of the month and bug of the month will be in a second episode coming out later this month, along with some tips for gardening with children.

If you have a garden question or topic, you would like us to talk about you can email us at Gardenhoespodcast@gmail.com

For more information about University of Maryland Extension and these topics, please check out the Home and Garden Information Center website at https://extension.umd.edu/hgic

The Garden Hoes Podcast is brought to you by the University of Maryland Extension. Mikaela Boley- Senior Agent Assoc. (Talbot Co.) for Horticulture, Rachel Rhodes- Agent Assoc. for Horticulture (QA Co), and Emily Zobel- Agriculture Agent (Dorchester Co.).

Listen to this episode
Find all The Garden Hoes episodes

How to plant a container-grown tree – Featured Video

Late-winter through mid-spring and early through mid-fall are the best times to plant woody ornamentals, so this is a good time of year to start planning your process if you are interested in adding shrubs or trees to your landscape this year.

Take a look at this video showing you how to plant your container-grown tree, and for more information, view the HGIC page on the planting process.

Our Favorite Trees

What are your favorite trees? The Watershed Restoration Specialists from the University of Maryland Extension Sea Grant Program recently shared what their favorite trees are and why.

As Watershed Specialists, we spend a lot of time helping people decide which species of trees might be best for a particular project based on a variety of factors including
sun, soils, and size. Every now and then, people will also see if they can add their favorite tree to the project. Now the number of reasons why people like a particular tree is
probably rivaled by the number of grains of sand on the beach and there’s not enough room in this article to list them all. But this got me to thinking; we spend so much
time talking to other people about trees, I wonder what our favorite ones are? Well, below is the answer to that very question. And after reading this, drop any one of us an email and let us know what your favorite tree is and why.

paw paw tree flowers and fruits
Paw Paw

Amanda – Paw Paw (Asimina triloba)
As an eastern North American native species, not only does Paw Paw have a very distinctive flower, it produces one of the largest edible fruits of all our native trees. The main reason this is Amanda’s choice of favorite native tree is that her son loves the fruit! And because of recent interest in Paw Paw fruit, it has earned the nickname Hipster Banana.

Jackie – Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Red Maples live up to their name: they give us that first shimmer of red in early spring with its flowers and seeds and wraps up the year with fiery red leaves in the fall. Even
though its nickname is Swamp Maple, Jackie appreciates Red Maples not only for their color, she’s actually made syrup from its sap!

red maple tree and flowers
Red Maple

Kelsey – Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)
A tree she grew up with in her home state of Michigan, Kelsey’s favorite is the Willow Oak. This fast-growing species produces plenty of acorns which keeps the squirrels busy, it also casts a great shadow on her apartment, something she appreciates during the summer months.

willow oak trees and acorn
Willow Oak

Jennifer – Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Earning its name from a coffee-cup sized flower that people don’t often see since they’re so high up in the tree, the Tulip Poplar is Jen’s favorite. This tall growing tree is important to a number of birds and butterflies. And its cat-shaped leaf reminds her of the two felines that are really in charge of her house.

tulip poplar tree flower and leaf
Tulip Poplar

Eric – Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)
My fave is the Black Gum. I grew to appreciate it over time because of the wide variety of conditions it grows in. And when people tell me they love the red color of a Burning Bush, which can invade natural areas, I often suggest that plants like Black Gum not only have a beautiful red color, they produce flowers and fruit that are beneficial to native insects and animals.

black gum tree red foliage
Black Gum

By Eric Buehl, Senior Agent Associate, Sea Grant Extension Programs. This article was published originally in the Maryland Sea Grant Headwaters Newsletter, October 2019.