The Worcester Tree initiative (WTI) has been replacing trees lost to bugs and weather for the past five years.  Their focus is on communities included in the Asian Longhorn Beetle (ALB)watch areas: Worcester, Shrewsbury, West Boylston, Boylston, Holden and, of course, Auburn.

“We have had giveaway events in all the other towns” said program coordinator Ruth Seward.  We wanted to reach out to Auburn.”

That’s exactly what Derek Lirange did.  Lirange, who also works for the WTI, contacted several organizations in Auburn including Pakachoag Church.

“We loved the idea immediately” said Pakachoag Church moderator Jeff LaBonte. (Disclosure: Jeff LaBonte is a partner in Auburn Mass Daily.)  We [Pakachoag] have been looking to do more community service type events and this fit perfectly.”

The first Auburn giveaway was set for Sunday, October 6.  Residents were able to request up to 5 trees online, and free of charge.  In exchange, residents were required to attend a 15-20 minute training session where WTI tree experts demonstrated how to properly plant and care for a tree.

One of the benefits to the event host is that the demonstration involves actually planting a tree.  For the 2 hour event, WTI ran three training sessions, meaning they needed a location that was willing and able to have 3 trees planted onsite.  Again, Pakachoag was ideal as there is plenty of open space all around the church property.

“People make a lot of common errors when planting trees” said one of the volunteer trainers.  The training covered things like planting depth (you should not cover the base of the tree, where the roots begin to branch off the trunk) and mulching (don’t mulch right up to the trunk; leave a few inches to prevent rot and disease).  They also emphasized the need to water the tree 5 gallons three times a week for the first 2 years after planting.

“Most of our trees survive, largely because we teach people how to plant and care for them properly” said Lirange after one of the demonstration sessions.

Indeed, the only drawback to the ’15 minute training in exchange for a free tree’ deal was that the event took place under an almost constant rain.  While great for trees, it wasn’t so great for those being trained or waiting for their trees.

There was very little grumbling, however.  Residents arrived with pickups, trailers, minivans and a few with sedans. Most had reserved one or two trees, though some people had about a dozen.

“Residents can request up to 5 trees on the online registration form. More than that they need to call us” said coordinator Ruth Seward. “We need to make sure the trees are being planted in Auburn [or another affected community] and that people aren’t abusing the program.”

According to Seward, a typical giveaway might involve 50-60 trees.  “The response in Auburn was tremendous. We have about 180 trees, and we have actually had to turn some late registrations away. We know our limitations.” said Seward.

For those who missed out or did not get exactly what they want, there are additional giveaways scheduled this fall, and more in the spring.  Residents to not need to attend a training or giveaway in their community, they only need to live in and plant the tree(s) in a community within the ALB watch area.  The Worcester Tree Initiative website will list upcoming giveaways.

If you can wait, Pakachoag Church hopes to host another giveaway in the spring. “It was great.” said LaBonte of the event. “It would have been nice if it were 68 and sunny.  WTI was great to work with, and we hope we can work with them again.