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Lawn service uses low-tech method to water hospital’s trees

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Dina L. Jareo’s method of watering young trees during this summer’s drought is turning a lot of heads at Samaritan Medical Center these days.

“Everybody is saying ‘What are those orange buckets?’” she said while her son was filling the 5-gallon containers with water earlier this week.

Jareo, who owns Creek Bend Lawn Care Service, LaFargeville, and has the contract to take care of the hospital’s landscaping, is using the bright orange 5-gallon buckets as an inexpensive method to water the young American elm, maple and flower crab trees on the hospital grounds.

The low-tech method employs the simple idea of drilling small holes in the bottom of the buckets and then filling the containers with water. The gradual release of water keeps the year-old trees’ roots moist and has helped them survive through the worst drought in decades, she said.

Before she placed the buckets around the hospital campus last month, the leaves were wilting and the trees were in danger of dying, Mrs. Jareo said. Her son, Joshua A.J. Minnick, used landscaping twine to tie the buckets to wooden stakes so the buckets cannot fly away.

In recent weeks, he has gone out three days a week to fill the buckets to the top with water, first in the morning and then again during the afternoon. And the inexpensive irrigation system — costing a little more than $200 — seems to have helped.

The trees have bounced back. The leaves look healthier, she said.

“It might not be pretty, but it works,” she said.

However, the buckets are just a temporary measure, said Samaritan spokeswoman Krista A. Kittle. The company that planted the trees last year will soon replace them with other, more expensive apparatuses called gator bags. The $20 plastic bags with tiny holes at the bottom hold up to 20 gallons of water and take as long as 12 hours to empty out.

Veteran John E. Moody, owner of Land Pro Landscaping, Watertown, said it may be the driest summer in his 27 years in business. Four employees head out in two trucks with a 1,000-gallon tank to water about 3,000 trees each week at Fort Drum.

During the past four weeks, the crew has only focused on watering trees and has not done any other landscaping.

“It’s the worst summer that I can remember,” he said.

The 2 inches of rain that hit the region last weekend will help but probably won’t save any newly planted trees that have not been watered this summer, said Susan J. Gwise, horticulture educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County.

Trees up to 3 years old may be in jeopardy, she said.

“The rule of thumb is they need an inch of water each week,” she said.

For the past 12 years, the city has hired a summer intern to specifically take care of city-owned trees. This year has been so dry that intern Matthew B. Brown, a recent graduate of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, has gone out daily to water between 70 and 80 young trees from a 210-gallon tank on the back of a city pickup truck.

“They definitely need a lot more help this summer,” he said.

How to save your thirsty trees
Here are some tips to watering trees during this summer’s drought:
• Place a garden hose underneath the tree near the trunk. Set the hose to a slow trickle and let it run for 20 minutes, moving it several times to distribute the water evenly. You also can use a sprinkler for 15 to 20 minutes or a 5-gallon bucket to dump four or five buckets of water around the trunk.
• Use either gator bags or drill tiny holes in the bottom of 5-gallon buckets and fill them up with water.
nUsing shredded bark or wood chip mulch around trees is important, as it helps reduce evaporation and improves water absorption. Don’t place around the tree’s trunk. The method is known as “volcanoing.”
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