JOLIET – Brian Neumann's crews were planting 33 trees along the city parkway along Hennepin Drive last week, and nearly every tree was a different species.
"The idea is to have a different species of tree in every spot," Neumann said, pointing to one tulip tree, then a black gum and then a Kentucky coffee. "The idea is to really, really diversify it."
The trees were replacing dead ash trees, killed by the emerald ash borer, in city of Joliet parkways.
The Fields on Caton Farm Inc., Neumann's nursery, planted about 500 trees for Joliet this spring. The trees planted Friday on Hennepin Drive were the last for the spring planting.
But crews will be back in the fall with more trees. After that, they will come for another six years as The Fields on Caton Farm fulfills a contract to replace about 7,000 ash trees lost to the emerald ash borer along city parkways.
Joliet and other towns are getting their trees back. But parkways will look a bit different as ash trees are replaced.
Repetition of species can have a nice, orderly appearance along certain city thoroughfares and village streets, as the trees bloom, flower and change colors in uniformity.
But Neumann said cities facing the expense of replacing thousands of ash trees have switched to diversity to avoid another unexpected tree disease.
"These trees here are honey locusts," he said, pointing to trees still flourishing in the Hennepin Drive parkway. "What happens if there's a problem with honey locusts?"
Tom Gollick, landscape division manager for The Fields, remembers planting ash trees along city parkways during the 1990s residential building boom.
"They were the most beautiful trees there were," Gollick said. "They grew well in that soil. Parkways can be terrible soil. There is a lot of construction debris."
Ash trees also stood up to the hazards of road salt. But they could not fight off the emerald ash borer.
Trees in subdivisions
City Councilman Larry Hug, who pushed for the tree replacement program, said thousands of ash trees were planted in the new subdivisions built on the far West Side of Joliet during the 1990s and early 2000s. The Wesmere and Cumberland subdivisions are two areas that got replacement trees this spring. But many neighborhoods are waiting.
"I'm still getting calls from people asking when it's going to happen, because they haven't got to them yet," Hug said. "I think in three to five years you'll see a huge difference. ... I think we should have started sooner."
The city has taken down about 5,000 ash trees in parkways. It expect to cut down another 2,000 to 5,000 trees infested with emerald ash borer.
Many residents do not know that Joliet this year started the tree replacement program, Hug said. The city website, cityofjoliet.info, does have an online form for people to request parkway replacement trees.
Exclusively for Joliet
The Fields on Caton Farm is expanding its 150-acre tree farm in Crest Hill to accommodate the demand for more trees from municipalities. The nursery has contracts as far north as Bartlett and as far east as Flossmoor. It supplies trees to local towns, including Shorewood, Channahon and Minooka.
For Joliet, the nursery has devoted acreage for trees that will be grown exclusively for the city over the next several years. It will ensure the diversity of stock demanded by Joliet, Neumann said. The city tree list includes more than 40 different species.
Because of the high demand for replacement trees in city parkways, not all municipalities can get the species they want when they want them, Neumann said. The Joliet program ensures the city can meet its diversity goals.
"I was able to choose the species that I wanted for our parkways and not take what they have," Joliet City Arborist Jim Teiber said.
In the first two years of the program, Joliet will take stock trees until the trees being grown at the nursery are ready to be planted in parkways.
"But I do have a specific list of stock material they must provide," Teiber said. "They either have to have that in stock or find it at a local nursery at the same price."
People want replacement trees in the parkways, but there is not widespread awareness of the city program, he said.
"I don't think the residents are aware that we have this program for the next seven years," Teiber said. "When they are aware they are very ecstatic."