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Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland

Phone: 503-823-7529

1120 SW Fifth Avenue, Portland, OR 97204

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Announcing the 2019 Golden DBH Tape Award Winners!

These two volunteers made extraordinary contributions to the Tree Inventory Project this year

With the Park Tree Inventory coming to a close in 2019, we couldn't choose just one winner of the Golden DBH Tape Award, given to those volunteers who go above and beyond as we map, measure, and identify trees across the city.

Our first winner…

Jim Keiter has been a dedicated Tree Inventory Project volunteer since 2014 when he was trained as a Street Tree Inventory Team Leader. He then went on to help inventory park trees when we kicked off in 2017 and has been supplying leadership and laughs ever since. Not only has he helped out at numerous volunteer workdays this year, he also helped staff tackle Mt. Tabor Park and Washington Park. He also co-led the Hillsdale Tree Team by recruiting volunteers and helping coordinate the inventory workday at Hillsdale Park. His favorite method of recruitment is having great tree conversations over a beer at Salvador Molly’s.

Volunteer Jim Keiter provides commentary at the beginning of an inventory workday
Jim providing some humorous commentary at the beginning of a workday

There’s never a dull moment when Jim is in attendance and he never turns down an opportunity to share a thought or two and ask others deep questions about their favorite trees. A former middle school teacher, he also makes great use of his teaching skills and does an awesome job at training new volunteers on tool usage and inventory protocol. During the Hillsdale Park workday, he even recruited a passer-by to stick around and help inventory trees the entire workday!

Thank you, Jim, for six years of dedication to the Tree Inventory Project. It wouldn’t have been the same without you!

And our second recipient is…

Kelly Childers! Kelly came to Urban Forestry last year as a seasonal staff member, working on the Urban FIA Program- a partnership between US Forest Service and the City of Portland. It was then that we found out Kelly is a hardcore tree enthusiast. On one of her Saturdays off, she came out to Willamette Park to help inventory! It wasn’t a big surprise this year to see her take on a larger role with the Park Tree Inventory. Kelly helped organize and recruit volunteers for both Grant Park workdays, took on a lead role on her Neighborhood Tree Team and made it to almost every workday (she missed only one because of a wicked cold).

Volunteer Kelly Childers helps another ID a tree
Kelly going over tree ID with a young volunteer in Sellwood Park

Being a tree enthusiast and a professional forester with the State of Washington, Kelly is always happy to share her extensive knowledge with whoever is around. She is kind, patient and encouraging to new volunteers. Kelly is also very humble about her skills, which helps others feel comfortable around her, whatever skill level they are at. She is always prepared at workdays, even going as far as bringing her own laser range finder to take tree height measurements; a treat for her teammates, who are always relieved to not use the challenging clinometer.

Thank you, Kelly, for your dedication, knowledge, and enthusiasm over the past two years. The Tree Inventory Project benefited much from your wealth of knowledge and genuine love of trees!

Interested in learning more about the volunteering for the urban forest? Check out our volunteer opportunities and workshop calendar to learn more about events happening near you.

How to Create a Shady Haven Under Mature Trees

Plants under the shade of mature trees.

Laura Heldreth explains her seven steps to creating a shady haven in the dry shade of mature trees. Laura is a Master Gardener in Vancouver, Washington, and this article is shared with her permission.

My oasis garden is located under a grove of mature Douglas fir trees. Whenever friends and students tease me about my ‘jungle’, I grin, because my ‘jungle’ is growing in dry shade and competing with thirsty tree roots. Let me take you through my steps on how to create a shady haven in dry shade.

Step 1

Map out the light conditions in your garden because certain plants prefer different light conditions. Go outside on a clear day and observe how the light moves through your garden, each season of the year. You can sketch out a shade map or take pictures of your garden throughout the day to note how much direct sunlight your garden receives.  

Light Conditions

Shade: Full shade is less than two hours of sunlight a day.

Dappled Shade: Dappled shade is a garden site under a canopy of trees and this area receives about two to three hours of sunlight filtered through the branches above.

Open Shade: shade provided by a building, not a tree canopy.

Partial Shade: 2 to 4 hours of sun per day.

Partial Sun: 4 to 6 hours of sun per day.

Full Sun: Six or more hours of direct sunlight per day.

Your light map will change over time, so make sure to note changes when a neighbor removes a tree, there’s windstorm damage, or an arborist prunes your trees.

Step 2

Make it a priority to protect your large trees’ roots. Large trees like the Douglas fir have most of their root systems in the top 12 to 24 inches of soil and spread out past the canopy’s edges or drip lines. So, plant small plants to prevent digging damage to your tree roots and maintain the current soil level.

Step 3

Create an irrigation plan that will water the garden at least once a week during the summer drought. Large tree roots are competitive for moisture, especially during heat waves. Install a watering system using drip irrigation, soaker hoses, or sprinklers. Make sure to water deeply and check to make sure that the water is soaking in, not just running off the surface of the soil.

Step 4

Add a two to three-inch layer of wood-based mulch to prevent weeds, hold in moisture, regulate soil temperature, and prevent soil run off. Leave a ring of bare soil that is 2 to 6 inches wide around the base of your trees and shrubs to keep them healthy.   

Step 5

Fertilize your shade garden plants with organic nitrogen meal fertilizers like alfalfa meal, feather meal and blood meal. Clark county soils are high in phosphate and potassium, but nitrogen is water-soluble and rinses out of the soil each season. Scratch in your organic nitrogen meal in early spring and water them in.

Step 6

Research your plant choices before you head to the nursery. Great Plant Picks ( has a comprehensive plant list that is compiled by horticultural experts in the Pacific Northwest. Their dry shade plant recommendations are fantastic. Plant Lust ( helps gardeners locate the plants they want through local growers in the Pacific Northwest.

If you’re looking for design inspiration, visit Darcy Daniel’s website eGardenGo ( Look through her suggested plant combinations and find helpful garden design tips and advice in her blog.

Step 7

Take time to enjoy your garden. Whether you like to barbecue or meditate in your space, make time to do it. Your garden is for your use and pleasure.

Backyard plants under mature trees.Gardening with big trees takes extra planning and care, but is worth the effort. Your new shady haven can become an extension of your home, an entertaining space, and your private oasis.

2018 Golden DBH Award Winner

Urban Forestry recognizes Denise Magnus for her dedication to the Park Tree Inventory.

The 2018 winner of Urban Forestry’s Golden DBH Award is Denise Magnus, Tree Inventory Team Leader extraordinaire. Denise is a longtime resident of Westmoreland and a new volunteer with the Tree Inventory Project. She signed up for Team Leader Training as a way to connect to her city parks and neighbors while gaining a new set of skills.

At the first workday of the summer, Denise worked in a challenging section of Gabriel Park. Navigating the learning curve of the inventory tools and teaching volunteers simultaneously, Denise led 2 new inventory data collectors through the scientific process at Gabriel Park. When the workday ended, Denise told staff that she wanted to come back to finish her section because she doesn’t like leaving a job unfinished. When staff returned to Gabriel Park the next week, Denise joined them for 2 afternoons, finishing her original section and helping to complete the inventory of over 600 trees in Gabriel Park. She not only completed the goal she set for herself, she gained confidence with the clinometer and iPad, and that confidence grew over the course of the summer.

Denise, right, helps a young inventory volunteer collect tree data in Lair Hill Park.

Instead of signing up for workdays at the beginning of the summer, Denise asked staff to let her know which workdays needed more support so that she could attend events where team leaders were needed most. She attended workdays at 8 different parks during the summer, teaching tree inventory protocol to data collectors from all walks of life. At Fernhill Park, Denise shared her experience and expertise with 6 high school students from Madison High School’s Eco Club as they all worked together to inventory a section of the park. Thank you, Denise, for helping to empower Portland’s next generation of urban foresters!

Madison High School Eco Club members work with Denise at Fernhill Park to inventory trees.

Interested in learning more about the volunteering for the urban forest? Check out our volunteer opportunities and workshop calendar to learn more about events happening near you. Want to hold an inventory of your neighborhood park? We are accepting applications for the 2019 Inventory now

Tree Team Spotlight: Concordia Tree Team Adopts Trees at Meek School

Concordia Tree Team plants trees in 2010.A class at Meek School helps to plant trees.

Eight years ago, a Learning Landscape arboretum was created at Alliance High School at Meek in the Concordia neighborhood of NE Portland. The Concordia Arboretum came about when a small group of Neighborhood Tree Stewards, known as the Concordia Tree Team, partnered with several groups. These groups included: Portland Parks and Recreation (PP&R) Urban Forestry, Friends of Trees and Meek School. The partnership aimed to turn a treeless, empty field into a place where trees from around the world could help students learn about botany. PP&R Urban Forestry played an important role in agreeing to establish the new trees by watering them for two summers after planting.

As important as those first two years of summer watering were, experience has shown that three-year-old trees in the open, sunny, wind-exposed field were subject to drying out and dying in Oregon's dry summers. Past planting attempts in the area had left only two struggling survivors-a ginkgo and an oak. Determined that this planting would survive to provide the long-term benefits of mature trees, the Concordia Tree Team made summer watering of the trees at Meek its top priority.

Initially members carried containers of water to the trees from their cars, but soon got agreement from the school to use the school’s water taps and store hoses in a locked area. Weekly from June on, a core group of tree stewards faithfully dragged out the hoses and watered all the trees three years and older. This task takes about 1.5-2 hours.

An oak tree on the Meek campus.Bald cypress at Meek School.

The result has been that of over two dozen trees planted in stages at the school, none that were watered by the tree stewards has died of drought! Beyond merely surviving, the ample weekly watering has allowed the trees to grow during dry months when lack of water typically shuts down or slows most Oregon tree growth. Many trees have put on a foot or more of growth each summer, especially those from summer-rainfall climates. Even normally slow growers, such as umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata), have shown healthy growth for their species. Some of the trees planted as one or two-gallon sizes have reached six feet or taller in just a few summers. The photo below shows a Google street view of the campus in 2015, five years after many of the trees were planted.

2015 Google street view of Meek.Once a blistering hot space in full sun, now the Meek campus has enough tree cover that small pools of shade provide a place for the many visitors to the area to cool off. Pet owners and parents stand in the shade of these young trees on hot days watching their dogs or children playing.

The tree stewards credit the success of an eight-year watering commitment to holding monthly face-to-face meetings, and continual group emails where people commit to different weeks. People often water together, helping to make it a social occasion rather than a chore. The donation of more hoses by individual tree stewards has also meant that most trees can now be reached by hose. This eliminated the time-consuming need to fill and transport heavy water containers. Only about six trees on the perimeter of the school still need water carried to them. The 2018 Google aerial view below shows the location of the trees.

2018 Google aerial view of the Meek campus.With much of Oregon again officially in drought this summer, the lesson from Concordia is that for the initial investment in planting trees to pay off, most newly planted trees should be watered their first several summers. The results are lush, healthy, faster-growing trees. In turn, these trees will help keep people cool as summers grow hotter. 

Californians in Oregon: How do sequoias and redwoods do in Portland?

Spoiler alert: These forest giants adapt well to the city

Native to California, giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are both large-form conifers also easily found in Portland’s urban forest. With common names that can be used interchangeably, the two are often confused or thought to be the same tree and they share many similarities. Both are notorious for their longevity, have thick, reddish bark that serves as a natural defense against wildfires, and are iconic symbols of the western U.S.

Along with the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), giant sequoias and coast redwoods make up the Sequoioideae family. All three trees are known for their longevity, impressive size, egg-shaped cones, and reddish bark.

Giant sequoias have blue-green, awl-shaped needles arranged spirally along the shoot. Cones are 1.5-2.5 inches long, with dense woody scales. The bark of sequoias is light reddish-brown, with a soft, spongy texture. The trunk of the giant sequoia is massive and can reach upwards of 30 ft in diameter. By volume, giant sequoias are the largest trees on the planet.

The blue-green foliage of the giant sequoia is distinctive, as are the awl-shaped needles

Coast redwoods also have cones that are made of woody seed scales and are egg-shaped; however, their cones are only half an inch to an inch long. The needles of the coast redwood are two-ranked, meaning they are arranged horizontally in pairs along a central shoot, similar to firs, and are a dark, glossy green. The bark of the redwood is much darker in color than that of the giant sequoia. Coast redwoods are the tallest trees on the planet, reaching over 300 ft tall along the northern California coastline. Although they are massive trees, redwoods don’t grow to the same diameters as sequoias in habitat. Both species can live to be over 2,000 years old.

Redwoods have alternately-arranged needles that lay flat. Cones are small.

Giant sequoias have a very small natural range, limited to the western flanks of the Sierra Nevada. Growing in Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Sequoia National Parks, these giants are accustomed to hot, dry summers and are shrouded in heavy snow pack during the winters.

Coast redwoods also have a limited natural range and are found alongside the Pacific Coast in northern California and southern Oregon. Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world and grow cloaked in fog that rolls through their canopies as warm air masses are cooled by the Pacific Ocean. With rainy winters and warm summers tempered by constant moisture from marine fog, redwoods have an incredibly long growing season, aided by their ability to pull moisture from the air.

With native ranges that encompass habitats totally different from the Mediterranean-climate of the Willamette Valley, how do sequoias and coast redwoods fare in Portland? Portland does not have the elevation or snowpack that the Sierra do, or coastal fog to the extent that is seen along the northern California coast, where champion redwoods thrive. Despite this, we’re finding that redwoods and sequoias do well in the city. Almost 500 sequoias and redwoods have been inventoried by the tree inventory project and 93% were rated as being in good or fair condition. These trees thrive in our urban forest, and as large-form evergreens, they provide us with enormous public health and environmental benefits. A mature giant sequoia in Portland can store over 6 tons of carbon and scrub pounds of pollutants from the air annually.

As our average summer temperatures continue to rise and summer drought conditions stretch longer each year, we need to plant trees that are resilient to these conditions. Sequoias and redwoods are well-adapted to survive our dry summers as long as they can reap the benefits of the rains in the winter. Their longevity gives them a permanent place in our urban landscape; Portland’s established sequoias and redwoods have the potential to outlive every human resident in the city.

Want to check out some of Portland’s sequoias and redwoods? Check out the Tree Inventory map. Want to see the biggest and best? Seven sequoias and four coast redwoods are recognized as Heritage Trees. In Laurelhurst Park, the walking path along SE Oak St features all three members of the Sequoioideae family – dawn redwood, giant sequoia, and coast redwood.

The Tree Inventory Project is a partnership with volunteers to map, measure, and identify Portland’s trees. Join us in a park near you!