Tending an Urban Tree – And Keeping it Alive with Some Help from Davey

In the late 1700s, a wealthy landowner and botanist imported a ginkgo biloba from China to plant at his palatial West Philly estate. They grew in popularity across the city and hundreds of years later the Philadelphia streets are lined with white flowering trees every spring. There’s only one problem – the people who did the landscaping didn’t realize they were planting female trees. And a flowering female Ginkgo tree projects a strong odor that is often described as bleach, vomit, or worse.

When we moved into our home 10 years ago it was a flowering female ginkgo that leaned over onto our deck, making springtime lounging an odorous affair. So I wasn’t too disappointed when a strong blizzard knocked the tree over in 2010.


Fortunately Philadelphia has wonderful programs that offer free trees and planting assistance to urban dwellers. Tree Philly offers free yard and street trees year-round for city residents. We received our baby tree from a neighborhood program that even planted it for us. But keeping that thing alive and well was going to be tricky.

Bad parallel parking jobs knocked it to and fro. Occasional drunk people would rip out the stakes and try to topple it over. The tree leaned strongly to the left in its early years until it grew strong enough roots to stand up straight.

Here is the baby tree. I was able to find this image through a timeline search on Google Maps!
Here is the baby tree. I was able to find this image through a timeline search on Google Maps!

I spoke with a local expert at The Davey Tree Expert Company who offered advice for tending an urban tree.

  • Keep it well watered for at least the first year. It is difficult to over water it, and a tree that is well-watered for the first year has a pretty good chance of survival.
  • Keep it staked for the first year – but don’t strangle it. Be sure to remove the stakes after a year.
  • Mulch with wood chips or compost – but don’t overmulch. 2-3 inches is fine. (We were extremely lucky that our neighbor voluntarily did this for us).
  • Try to fertilize, especially during the fall season.
  • Weed the area around the tree.

Five years later we have a thriving, healthy, leafy maple tree in front of our home.



This post was sponsored by The Davey Tree Expert Company. To read my full blogger disclosure, click here.

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