Irrigation 'gators' rescue young Fredericton trees from drought

In the longest dry spell since the 1980s, the city of Fredericton is starting a pilot project to help young trees stave off some of the damage caused by the dry weather.

70 trees affected by the recent dry spell have been saved with a city pilot project

Don Murray, the city's manager of parks and trees in Fredericton, says this is the longest dry spell he's experienced in Fredericton since the 1980s. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

The City of Fredericton believes a new irrigation pilot project may have saved up to 70 young trees from some of the damage caused by a prolonged dry spell.

Don Murray, director of Fredericton's parks and trees division, said this is the longest dry spell he's experienced in Fredericton since coming to work for the city back in the 1980s.

He's afraid many of the city's younger trees will have a hard time surviving it.  

"I suspect we're going to lose some of our trees we've planted in the past three years," he said.

"The last time I remember a drought — and it wasn't this bad — we saw the implications from that for years afterward."

The City of Fredericton has been trying a pilot project with irrigation this year to stave off some of the damage caused by a prolonged dry spell. (City of Fredericton)
Crews attached bags known as Treegators around the trunks of some young trees along Cliffe Street. Each polyethylene bag holds 55 litres of water that weeps slowly through small openings into the ground around the roots.

So far the gators appear to have saved at least 70 trees. Other trees, left to fend for themselves in the dry weather, show signs of stress and probably won't survive.

"We'll be purchasing more every year, so every new tree that we put in in future years will probably have one of these tree gators around it," Murray said.

"And we'll be asking the homeowners to fill them every three days in times of drought."

Most of the damage occurs out of sight

One of the hardest things about long dry spells is the damage isn't immediately apparent.

"You get root damage and the tree goes in decline," Murray said.

"Trees don't normally die in one year. It take five to 10 years sometimes, so we will see the results of this drought over five years minimum."

Murray said the Treegator bags may be the answer if predictions of warming summers come true, because they get the water to exactly where it's needed.

"If we took a water tanker around and sprayed 55 litres on each tree, the tree is probably only going to capture less than five litres, but if we put the tree bag on, it gets all 55 litres that comes out of the bag."