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Youth Tree Tenders

We began our Youth Tree Tenders program to train and educate teenagers about the benefits of trees, why it’s necessary to care for them, and allow them to apply that knowledge in the field through tree maintenance and plantings. Bloomington lacked a paid program that provides opportunities for youth to get involved in tree planting and care. There are comparable programs arising in cities across the country to get youth involved in environmental and tree stewardship and help those organizations reach their goals, such as Keep Indianapolis Beautiful’s Youth Tree Team. Bloomington has a long-standing interest in and initiatives relating to environmental and climate resiliency, but typically youth engagement is limited to volunteering, and paid positions are reserved for adults experienced in the field. This program aims to reconcile community interests in environmental action with youth development.


For our pilot program, we hired 4 enthusiatic high school students who worked for 10 hours a week for 10 weeks throughout the summer. On Mondays we held enrichment days where speakers from the community would talk about resume development, financial responibility, etc., or where we took field trips to local green businesses, like Eco Logic, to learn about other topics in the environmental field. Tuesdays and Thursdays served as our work days where we did our maintenance tasks in Switchyard Park and held tree plantings. Jordis Kieffer, a Junior at Bloomington High School South, says, “Working as a Youth Tree Tender helps our local environment; the work we do will have a long-lasting impact in a positive way by providing better urban canopy around Bloomington.”

About The Program

A bulk of our work this summer was done in the newly established Switchyard Park, which is the home to many young trees needing extra care!

For our YTT program, we partnered with the City of Bloomington to do work in Switchyard Park. Switchyard Park has hundreds of new, young trees that require maintenance and care. Because the City has to care for thousands of trees across the City, we partnered with them to alleviate their time spent in the park so they can focus on caring for trees elsewhere. As a part of our partnership agreement, we performed root collar excavation and girdling root removal, mulching, formative pruning, and watering.

Many trees in Switchyard Park are in landscape beds or paririe restoration areas. We performed maintenance tasks on free-standing, young landscape trees under 3 inches DBH. These trees are accessible and benefit the most from our maintenance tasks.


Root Surgery


Exposing Problematic Roots

A common problem with urban trees, especially in Indiana's heavy clay soils, is that they are planted too deeply. We spent a majority of our time in SYP performing root collar excavation and girdling root removal. Trees planted too deeply can cause trunk and root rot as well as poor root structure development. Girdling roots limit a tree's ability to transport water and nutrients, so it's important to remove them before the roots become too etablished to successfully remove them.



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Proper Mulching Method

After a tree's root collar is exposed and girdling roots removed, our YTT's mulched the trees in a donut shape, which is the preferrable method of mulching to help collect and direct water towards the base of the tree and ensure that the base of the tree is free from material that may hold moisture in and cause rotting. In addition to looking nice, mulch insulates and regulates temperature for the soil containing the roots, helps retain water and provide nutrients, reduces weed growth, and prevents soil compaction and damage from mowers and foot traffic.

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Exposing Problematic Roots

Pruning young trees is crucial for a their long-term survival. We prioritized removing dead, damaged, and diseased (DDD) branches. In addition, our YTTs learned to identify and remove remove sucker saplings and epicormic growth. Trees should be pruned every 1-2 years in order to develop proper structure and form!


About 150+ trees had root collar excavation and girdling root removal performed on them and were donut mulched.

About 200 trees were pruned

Enrichment Days

We envision a well-connected and informed community where we all get to reap the economic, health, and ecological benefits of trees!  We do this by working together as neighbors to steward Bloomington’s urban forests and other green infrastructure. We imagine a resilient and equitable urban forest created by everyone for everyone.

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