By Kelly Nicholaides
for Montclair Local
After residents approached the council about an alarming number of newly planted trees dying in front of their homes, the Montclair Mayor and Council maintains that the fall tree planting will be more successful with the same contractor since the township will consider using a watering service.
The governing body awarded a $44,970 contract to Louis Barbato Landscaping of Holbrook, N.Y. on Sept. 25. The contractor has been responsible for the purchase, delivery and planting of trees for the last two years.
In the spring, 332 trees were planted throughout the township, but about 20 percent did not survive acting aborists Pat Sexton said in July.
Sexton said that his survey in July of all the trees came up with 75 dead and 40 very wilted.
The town typically sees an 8-to-10 percent loss.
For years, the town has depended on residents to water. But many homeowners are not aware that they should be watering, according to Environmental Commission officials. Letters are supposed to be left in residents’ mailboxes alerting them to newly planted trees outside their homes. Residents say they received no notices in the spring. Sexton said he is not sure why the letters were not disseminated.
“The trees that died went very quickly. However, it now appears that many are rebounding and the arborist is keeping an eye on these, so it’s not possible to provide an update right now. But we anticipate a five percent loss. Those trees will be replaced by the contractor,” Township Communications Director Katya Wowk said.
Gator reservoir bags – green plastic bags that wrap the trees and can be filled up weekly to slowly water new trees – are not used in Montclair except for trees planted in the business districts, he said. Essex County also places the bags on its newly planted trees along county roads.
For fall, the contractor will plant 150 trees.
“I would like to see that number [of trees planted] increased,” said Deputy Mayor Sean Spiller, liaison to the Montclair Environmental Commission.
Spiller confirmed that the township is considering a watering service to be used on as needed basis as per the suggestion of the Environmental Commission. However, he noted that the contractor is “on the hook” for replacing trees that died after the spring planting.
“The trees planted by the contractor are guaranteed. If they die, they will be replaced,” said Spiller.
In 2017, the township paid Louis Barbato Landscaping $76,925, of which $42,000 was for spring plantings of 275 trees. This year, the town paid $59,500 for the spring tree planting.
Montclair Environmental Commission member Sandra Chamberlin had previously stated that the loss of trees was due to a combination of lack of watering and scorching summer temperatures.
“I’m currently discussing a formal proposal from Richard Wolowitz of Glenridge to water Montclair’s young trees in an emergency,” Chamberlin said. “We feel that it makes no sense to allow young trees to die, and with this proposal may be able to show that it is not economically wise. It is our hope that with this watering proposal being adopted and included in the budget, we will be able to act quickly next year if trees show signs of heat distress.”
The township arborist and the landscaper did not respond to inquiries.
Wowk confirmed that in the past, the Community Services Department put notices in residents’ mailboxes asking them to water the trees. She could not provide the updated number of dead trees.