Trees in Cemeteries

We all know that a healthy urban tree canopy is critical to the health of our communities. Starting in August of 2018 I had the opportunity to see firsthand just how important this is when I began a project with historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia raising money to preserve and protect their tree canopy. 

Oakland cemetery includes over 1600 trees and hundreds of species.  Some are saplings while others are close to 200 years old. With over 5.6 million people living in metropolitan Atlanta, having a healthy tree canopy is critical to our health. Science shows that one large tree can supply enough oxygen for four people.

And while a cemetery may not be the first place you think of when it comes to the urban forest, in fact cemeteries pre-date public parks and like Oakland, their trees provide the foundation for the natural beauty and tranquility that make these urban green spaces so inviting. Even more important, they offer countless benefits that extend, in Oakland’s case, beyond their walls to the surrounding community and neighborhoods. These include shade, cooler temperatures, clean air and habitat for wildlife and pollinators. From majestic oaks to magnificent magnolias they all play an important role.

Founded in 1850 as a rural cemetery, today Oakland is a 48-acre oasis of history, sculpture, gardens and wildlife and one of the largest public parks in the city. It is open free-of-charge to the public 364 days per year and has an annual visitation of 55,000 people. Depending on the day there are dog walkers, families visiting gravesites, friends enjoying a picnic and garden clubs taking a tour of the magnificent trees. 

Since 1982, Oakland has experienced a 50 percent reduction in its tree canopy due to drought, environmental stresses, natural disasters and old age. Fortunately a Tree Care Action Plan was created in 2012 by Spence Rosenfeld. (1952-2018), CEO and president of Arborguard Tree Specialists, as well as a former Oakland board member.  To continue to implement this plan, funds are needed.

It has been an education process to teach people that the trees in the urban forest cannot thrive unless they receive ongoing yearly care including pruning, fertilization, cabling and soil treatments. At Oakland the estimated cost for this is $40,000 per year.

We have had success and the community has responded with support for the tree canopy. To-date we have raised over $160,000 for the care and maintenance of the trees at Oakland.The message here is that when the trees thrive our communities thrive!

Erica Goldstein is a horticulturist and Coordinator for the Piedmont Park Conservancy.

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