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Arbor Day Foundation crowns University as a Tree Campus

April 25, 2018
crabapple trees on University's Eastman QuadFlowering crabapple trees on the Eastman Quad in spring (Photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester)

The University has been named a Tree Campus USA institution for the eighth straight year.  This national recognition comes from the Arbor Day Foundation and honors colleges and universities that have a commitment to effective urban forest management and engaging staff and students in conservation goals.

With more than 1,400 trees of 117 different species, the University’s arboretum and grounds include the trees and shrubbery on the River Campus, Eastman School of Music campus, the Memorial Art Gallery, Medical Center campus, and Mt. Hope campus.  The University’s Horticulture and Grounds Department—part of University Facilities and Services—oversees and cares for the collection of trees year round.

We recently turned to David Nelson, manager of Horticulture & Grounds, to understand more about caring for the trees on River Campus and other University properties.

What is within the current catalog of trees in our arboretum?

We have an impressive and diverse collection of trees throughout our campus that includes species such as the Ginkgo, Copper Beech, English Oak, and the Corkscrew Willow. You can find these specimens along with dozens of others on our Tree Tour map online. This past year, we introduced a new species, the Seven-Son Flower tree (Heptacodium miconioides), to our arboretum. This new tree is located in front of the Public Safety Building on River Campus.

Do different species of trees require different care? What overall is more important about caring for the trees? What are some of the highlights of our tree care plan?

After taking into consideration the tree’s age, height, location, etc., essential aspects of caring for trees include watering (overwatering is a common mistake), proper soil conditions, pruning and root protection. It’s also very important to protect our trees from potential damage caused by machines, such as lawn mowers and string trimmers. Our tree care management plan is a multi-faceted approach focused on supporting long-term health, protection and the beauty of the campus’ urban forest. Efforts include promoting tree health safety by following the International Society of Arboriculture’s (ISA) best management practices; ensuring University design standards in relation to tree plantings are followed; encouraging our community to value our urban forest by working with student groups, as well as carrying out campus tree tours; and conducting regular plant (tree) health inspections.

What are some of the current challenges facing the health of our trees?

Every urban forest faces a number of health challenges such as root space restriction, pests, compacted soil, lack of nutrients, and mechanical damage. It takes a proactive approach and a concerted effort to overcome these challenges. We do this by following practices such as introducing leaf compost and organic matter to the soil, root protection and vertical mulching, and structural pruning.

a red oak tree on Eastman Quad

One of the great red oaks on Eastman Quad during Meliora Weekend. (Photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester)

With regard to pests, the emerald ash borer is still a significant threat in our area and we continue to treat our ashes that have been deemed healthy enough to have a fighting chance against this devastating beetle. On our radar now is oak wilt, which is a disease caused by a fungus that blocks the flow of water and nutrients from the tree’s roots to its crown. Oak wilt can affect all oak trees, however the Red Oak species is the most susceptible. This is especially concerning for us because of our beautiful Red Oaks that line the Eastman Quadrangle. It is a priority of ours to keep these prized trees as healthy as possible by diligently following best practices and abiding by recent guidelines from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

What can interested students do to become involved in our arboretum?

There are several ways students can become involved. Students can join one of our student ecology and environmental groups, such as EcoReps, GrassRoots, and GreenSpace. These groups are dedicated to promoting sustainability efforts and environmental awareness on our campus. Students can also book a group tree tour with us or participate in a tree planting.

You mentioned tree tours. Can anyone take a tour? Where are they held?

Anyone in the University community is welcomed to take a tree tour. We have also led tours for local horticulture groups and gardening clubs. Typically held during the summer months, tree tours take place on the River Campus and are scheduled as inquiries arise.  Interested groups can contact me at, and John McIntyre, Horticulture & Grounds supervisor, at

For more about University Facilities and Services ecological efforts, visit:

The Arbor Day Foundation has helped campuses throughout the country plant thousands of trees, and Tree Campus USA colleges and universities invested more than $48 million in campus forest management last year. More information about the program is available at

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