Mount Allison University plants specially engineered elms on campus

·3 min read
Tony Tomlik, Erin Coombs and Will O'Reilly are all part of the project at Mount Allison University to increase the number of American Elm trees on campus.  They're also working to protect the mature elms that are left. (Kate Letterick/CBC News - image credit)
Tony Tomlik, Erin Coombs and Will O'Reilly are all part of the project at Mount Allison University to increase the number of American Elm trees on campus. They're also working to protect the mature elms that are left. (Kate Letterick/CBC News - image credit)

Three members of Mount Allison University's grounds crew are carefully checking a newly planted tree.

It's one of six American elms resistant to Dutch elm disease that are being planted around the campus in Sackville to help replace the loss of a number of mature elms.

"We selected proper sites for them to ensure that they're going to be able to grow to their full size and we've staked them because in Sackville we've got high winds here, to protect them against that," said Will O'Reilly, campus services supervisor.

"We've put in mulch and compost to make sure that they're well fed and get the roots in for the first couple years, it's very important."

WATCH | 'They're like little babies': New elm trees planted at Mount Allison University

Elm trees across the Maritime region were hit hard by Dutch elm disease, O'Reilly said. "And Mount Allison University, known for its grounds and greenery, has been no exception.

The new elm trees, from Nova Scotia's Pleasant Valley Nurseries, are specially grown to resist Dutch Elm disease.

Even though they're new to the campus, the trees have been "pre-grown" for several years.

Pierre Fournier/CBC News
Pierre Fournier/CBC News

Tony Tomlik, a grounds crew member, said now that the trees are in the ground, he's hopeful they'll take to their new environment.

"We'll be monitoring them and watering them regularly, " Tomlik said.

"Just because they're in the ground doesn't mean we can walk away — they're like little babies, children, so we have to take care of them and nurse them along the way."

Kate Letterick/CBC News
Kate Letterick/CBC News

Erin Coombs, the lead hand on the grounds crew, said the next couple of years are key.

"You go through the first season and see if they survive the winter, like that's a big thing and try to keep them fertilized and watered for the first season or two, and then if they make it through that they should grow — hopefully."

The three remaining mature elms on campus have been inoculated against the disease.

It's all part of the university's longtime landscaping policy.

"At Mount Allison, we have a policy that for every tree we lose, we try to replace it with three, so that's been helping a little bit with all the ones that we had to cut down," said Erin Coombs.

The grounds crew has also been working on a new project started in the winter. Trees and plants are being identified and catalogued as part of a tree inventory.

Pierre Fournier/CBC News
Pierre Fournier/CBC News

"So far I've identified over 700 trees on campus that have been planted at various stages since the campus began, and so we're trying to monitor the trees' health and wellness, select varieties that do well here and stop planting varieties that don't do well here," said Tony Tomlik.

Tomlik has found a few surprises, including magnolia, dogwood, tulip trees, along with Swiss stone pine, all species not common to the area.

Meanwhile, local eyes are on the newly planted elm trees.

"If they survive and thrive then, you know, it could be my grandchildren that could be enjoying them after I'm gone," Tomlik said. "So it's fun to be part of the initial planting."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting