Manor Park Society Takes A Long-Term Look at Its Trees

by Rob Snedeker, President, Larchmont Manor Park Society

(June 28, 2006) Trees, dirt and mulch are the latest focus of the Larchmont Manor Park Society as it continues a large-scale renewal effort kick-started in 2003 with a major fundraising campaign. (See: $1 Million Capital Campaign Underway for Manor Park) Since then, a number of projects have been launched and landed, including seawall repairs, new fencing and rebuilt gazebos. Now the Society is turning to perhaps the most important aspect of its holdings: the parkland and its trees.

Manor Park Trees
Manor Park Society's current focus is the health of its trees and soil.

As a first step, the Society sought a professional assessment of the trees and land. “We all had some sense of what the park contained in terms of tree species and the obvious fact that many trees were quite mature and, certainly, that some number were being lost to storms each year,” said Karin Sherman, a member of the Board of Trustees and a prime mover behind the project. “But we felt that a detailed survey was the proper way to get started.”

The Society called in Frank Buddingh and John Grant, professional arborists with extensive experience in tree care. They conducted the tree survey earlier this year and presented their findings last month.

Their report revealed the following about the trees:

  • There are approximately 600 trees (excluding saplings) on the 14 acres that make up Manor Park and Fountain Square.
  • The tree population contains 30 different species- good news in terms of diversity; but not so good news as over 25% of the total are Norway maple and cherry - both of which are not well suited for the Park environment and in a general state of decline. (See chart)
  • Of the various types currently found in Manor Park, 36% are classified as “Large”, 40% “Medium” and 24% “Small.” Although this sounds like a reasonably balanced distribution, it presents a major challenges for the future: to increase the number of small and medium size species that are more suited for the site.
  • The condition of the trees varies considerably: as noted on the chart, some of the most numerous, the Norway maple and cherry, are in the worst condition.

Tree Chart

But perhaps the most compelling aspect of the report, focused on the condition of the park’s soil and natural environment. Much of Manor Park sits on a rocky slab and soil depths are naturally shallow in most areas. Further, the stress of serving as a publicly accessible park for more than 115 years has taken its toll. As more and more areas have become dedicated to paths and mowed grass, the soil has become compacted and eroded - perhaps more than 50% of the depth was lost during this period.

The report concluded: “The overall tree population is ‘grey-ing’ as a result of a lack of new tree generation. Soil vitality is at an all time low as a result of a low or non-existent litter layer that is so essential in the regeneration process of all plant growth as well as surface water retention and permeability.”

Ms. Sherman noted, “ The value of this report is that we now begin to see the interrelationships involved between tree and plant growth and regeneration, soil condition, and species suitability. It’s become pretty obvious that tree types that might have survived to maturity on the park site in the 1900’s no longer make any sense. There simply isn’t enough soil - so we’ll be focused on smaller to medium native tree types such as burr oak, silver and red maple and hawthorne for future replacements. Planting large “balled root” specimens- a way to jump-start a tree replacement program in certain locations - also won’t work in the park. Instead we’ll be looking at natural regeneration and bare root stock transplant as the most effective way to deal with this site.”

What Will Visitors to Manor Park See?

Over the short term, the Society will continue removing dead and diseased trees. Although a number of trees were revealed by the survey to be in “irreversible state of decline” this does not mean they must be removed immediately; instead they will be monitored and removed when appropriate. Also under review as part of a long-term management program is the use of compost “teas” – organic material in liquid form – and other forms of natural mulching and composting that can begin the soil regeneration process without negatively impacting the appearance and accessibility of the park.

All of this will take a number of years, and the financial requirements will be significant. “The funds allocated from the [2003] capital campaign will definitely get this effort underway,” said Ms. Sherman, “but broad public support for the Society’s annual funding campaigns will be essential to keep it going. We’re convinced future generations will think it an investment well made.”