New trees on 4th and 5th streets downtown: dead, diseased, damaged, down

5th St. trees, downtown Northfield5th St. trees, downtown Northfield5th St. trees, downtown Northfield5th St. trees, downtown Northfield5th St. trees, downtown Northfield
While biking on 5th St downtown late yesterday afternoon when it was very windy and 100+ degrees, I noticed that a young tree had blown down. I then looked at the base of the other three trees on 5th St near Division and they all looked diseased or damaged at the base.

4th St. trees, downtown Northfield 4th St. trees, downtown Northfield4th St. trees, downtown Northfield
This morning I looked at the trees on 4th St. that were planted late last year. Several appeared dead and many looked sick.

Can anyone diagnose this seemingly sorry state of affairs?


  1. Not to sound like an antagonist, but how do you expect a tree to live, when you only give it a 12 (or less) inch hole in which to get rainwater to its root system?

    I do not ever recall someone watering these since they were placed. I have never understood the placement of plants and trees, with nearly all of their root system covered by concrete.

    June 8, 2011
  2. kiffi summa said:

    This is really an unfortunate circumstance since the 4th street trees were obviously chosen to make what would have been a ‘grand allee’ some time in their future… they were all so close in size and shape.

    What is the city policy? are newly planted trees watered their first and second year?

    June 9, 2011
  3. Chris Ekern said:

    I’ve seen that type of damage on young trees caused by voles. I have a hard time believing those varmints are living in the downtown area though.

    The city and their overall tree policy needs some fine tuning… how can they justify planting those maples in a 6″ by 6″ area? What happens when they mature? Not much forward thinking there if you ask me.

    The tree subject is a sore one for me though.

    June 9, 2011
  4. Jim Fisher said:

    Great pictures Griff, it helps to diagnose the issue. If these trees were in a turfed area I would say they have mower blight. It is caused by running your lawn mower or other device into the trunk and breaking the cambium layer. Given the location of these trees it could be a rarer form of mower blight, shovel/plow blight. However looking at the amount of callus on the wounds I would say it is brick paver blight and talk with whoever installed the pavers. These trees have been through at least one maybe two full groaning seasons since they were damaged.
    Trees don’t belong in pots unless you are willing to replace them on a regular basis, if they do manage to survive long enough to “cascade” over the street, they will start to heave the walks with their roots.

    June 10, 2011
  5. kiffi summa said:

    I’d like to hear more from Mr. Fisher on the situation in which these downtown trees are being planted….

    All the money, energy, and controversy that have been spent, and to some degree wasted on these engineering projects make it imperative to get it right.
    I don’t expect our city engineer to be an expert in every part of an engineering project, but I do expect that they will get expert advice.

    Does anyone recall the long and contentious dialogue at the Council about the 4th street trees? And now half , or more are dead or dying?
    And the costs of that whole project, and the importance of the trees?

    And by the way, St. Olaf’s plantings, thanks to mr. Fisher (?) are always exceptional AND healthy looking!

    June 10, 2011
  6. Michelle Hawkins said:

    How much money was wasted on this? Failing to plan is planning to fail. A plan of this sort certainly needed an expert horticulturist that could have gotten it done right the first time, IF the planners listened to them.

    Failing to plan is planning to fail. Shall we throw good money after bad?

    June 12, 2011
  7. Jim Fisher said:

    Thank you for the compliment regarding the STO campus. I would like to try however, to maintain a separation from my employer and my social diagnosis of issues particularly when it comes to the City of Northfield. This separation is especially significant because I am not a resident nor have I been one for over 50 years now. My comments regarding these trees were entirely my own and were in no manner meant to be anything short of an opinion based on Griff’s photos of what was happening to the trees.

    June 12, 2011
  8. Lisa Gaetjens said:

    With regards to rainwater, the bricks surrounding the trees are laid loosely with no kind of grout between them, so I would guess that additional rainwater would reach the trees by passing through the bricks. The trees that were there previously had a similar set up, except with metal grates instead of the loose bricks.

    June 12, 2011
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    In City Administrator Tim Madigan’s Friday Memo for the week of June 13-17, Sean Simonson, Engineering Tech Coordinator, reported:

    Staff met with BCM Construction and their tree sub-contractor on the health of the Armstrong Maples that were planted on Fourth Street between Division Street and Washington Street. All of the 19 trees have either died, or are in poor health. It was determined that the use of road salts have caused irreversible damage to the trees. Staff is looking into a replacement plan for the trees.

    Hmmm. This doesn’t seem right to me. And what about the 5th St trees?

    June 25, 2011
  10. john george said:

    Perhaps the city can find some trees that are salt resistant, like mangroves. Oh, wait! This IS Minnesota. What am I thinking!?

    June 25, 2011
  11. John S. Thomas said:

    Wouldn’t you think that the tree subcontractor would take this into account before recommending a tree to be placed next to a residential street?

    It would seem that unless this was their first ever installation, they would know that one of the risks to the new trees would be road salt, plowing, etc.

    I just hope that another round of trees is planted next spring. (I say that, because it seems to take forever to get anything done…)

    June 25, 2011
  12. Michelle Hawkins said:

    Road salt? Really? Then explain all the trees lining MN streets everywhere? I’m just askin here.

    June 25, 2011
  13. john george said:

    Michelle- I’m no tree expert, but it seems logical that if you take the salt from about a block of street and sidewalk and concentrate it in the 5′ square areas of soil that surround the trees, it would be more concentrated than the salt along a boulevard. At least there is a fair amount of soil along a boulevard to disipate the salt concentration.

    June 27, 2011
  14. Griff Wigley said:

    I contacted Sean Simonson, City Engineering Tech Coordinator about the trees.

    Good news: He confirmed that the 4th St trees are under warranty and will be replaced by the contractor at no charge to the City. After doing some research, it turns out that this species of Maple is vulnerable to salt.

    Bad news: the 4th St. trees will be cut down this week and not replaced till next spring when a full growing season will give them a better chance. It’s a big project to replace them because of the pavers, etc.

    Good news: the 5th St. trees (different contractor/subcontractor) are under a maintenance agreement and the one that blew down will be replaced at no charge. Sean believes that the damage to the base of those trees was caused by a snow blower but that the others will survive.

    June 28, 2011
  15. Griff Wigley said:

    I noticed today that the trees on 4th St. still have not been cut down and replaced. I’m inquiring.

    April 17, 2012
  16. Griff Wigley said:

    From Sean Simonson, Engineering Tech Coordinator:

    Staff met with representatives from BCM Construction to discuss the replacement of the 19 Armstrong Maples on Fourth Street between Division Street and Washington Street. Staff and BCM agreed that the trees were not properly maintained after they were planted, so replacement will be made at BCM’s cost. Staff has indicated that they would like the replacement to happen this spring so the trees have a chance to establish before they go into winter dormancy. Notice will be sent out when this work is to take place. Residents can expect parking closures for a few days while this work is being completed.

    April 17, 2012

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