Tech landscape strengthens its roots

Anyone driving down University Drive this week may have noticed a change in scenery-or lack thereof. Part of a plan to plant better-quality trees, Tech Grounds Services cut a majority of the University’s Bradford pear trees on the northwest side of campus and replaced them with heartier trees.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for several years,” said Terrell Key, director of Custodial and Grounds Services. “We were trying to do some different landscaping this fall, and we drew this up and came up with a plan, then figured out what trees we wanted to put out.”

Key, along with Horticulture Technician for Grounds Services Greg Haynes and crew supervisor Bruce Allen, made much of the decision to replace the approximately 17-year-old Bradford Pear trees along University Drive and on McGee Blvd. due to the trees’ weak nature.

Three decades ago a Bradford pear trend swept across the American landscape after being commercially introduced to the U.S. from Japan and Korea by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1961. Landscaping enthusiasts jumped at the uniform-shaped and quick-growing tree that provided snowy-white blooms in the spring and bright-colored fall leaves that outlasted most deciduous trees in the U.S.

With the beauty, though, came the tree’s weakness.

The tree grows too many limbs from the same location on the trunk, crowding the trunk and not leaving enough wood tissue for each limb to cling to. This causes the tree to have a weak crotch system-the limb-to-tree area-and makes the tree susceptible to wind damage like the campus has witnessed each spring.

“Over here on the University Drive we’ve had so many different sizes [due to replacement] and shapes [due to damage],” Key said. “It just doesn’t look good. And if we hadn’t have taken them out, we would have spent next spring getting them out of the road.”

In order to stray from extra springtime work, Key and the members of Grounds Services have put in Shumard oaks on University Drive and American holly trees across from Hooper Eblen.

Professor of Horticulture Douglas Airhart said the new trees are a promising addition to Tech’s landscape.

“The Shumard oaks and holly trees are long term and have structural integrity in their natural form, whereas Bradford pears do not,” Airhart said. “I think it’s an excellent idea. If you notice across the street from the tennis courts, there are oak trees that have been there for-well I’ve been here for 25 years, and they were big when I got here.”

“The Bradford pears were planted since I came here, and they were falling apart. So, yeah. The new trees are an excellent idea. They’re much longer lived trees.”

According to the forestry department of Virginia Tech, Shumard oaks are one of the largest growing southern red oaks, maturing at 75 to 90 feet. The rapid-growing trees are resistant to drought and can take on poor soil conditions. Two Shumards oaks can be seen flanking the steps leading up to the front entrance of Derryberry Hall.

The new American holly trees will greet people at the parking area of the Hoop year-round, as it is an evergreen. Virginia Tech documents the tree to mature around 40 feet. It is known for its pointy, dark green leaves and red berries.

Dr. Airhart said the direction Grounds Services is taking with Tech’s landscape has provided an aesthetic uplift in color and quality and looks forward to their progress. The landscaping will continue this semester as Grounds works toward bettering the campus look.