The Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection: Proactive Management

January 14, 2015 at 6:30 am 2 comments

Smithsonian elm tree

This American elm tree on the grounds of the National Museum of Natural History is over two hundred years old. Eric Long, photographer.

The Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection currently consists of over 1,850 trees, approximately 1,400 of which are located on the downtown Washington, D.C. and Anacostia campuses.  These trees add beauty to our grounds, and they offer myriad environmental and health-related benefits.  Unfortunately, it seems that trees are constantly under attack by a host of problems, ranging from severe climate, to native and exotic pests and diseases, to damage from construction and development projects, to the tough urban environment in which they grow.  Once these plants become stressed, it’s more likely that they will suffer due to one or more of these issues.  In addition, as trees grow, certain structural defects can develop which may cause problems in the future, especially when severe weather events can exploit the inherent weaknesses in these defects.

For these reasons, we at Smithsonian Gardens take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to caring for these green assets.  Oftentimes, defects, cultural stressors, or insect and disease infestations that have gone unnoticed for a time can be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.  Therefore, a thorough health and structure assessment of these trees was completed at the end of 2014.  This assessment consisted of a top-to-bottom, 360 degree visual evaluation of each tree.  All defects and other potential issues were noted and assigned a rating based on the severity of the condition observed.

Tree Banding

Smithsonian Gardens staff band trees.

What we had at the end of the evaluations was a complete list of trees, their problems (if they had any), and recommendations for correcting anything of concern.  Based on the ranking system, we now have an organized and detailed list of what maintenance and tree care work is needed, with a clear indication of where we need to start.  This has enabled Smithsonian Gardens to find and fix issues before they become more serious, and gives us the ability to be proactive with our tree management.  It also gives us a better idea of how to budget for upcoming maintenance needs.  Prevention is the best medicine, and any time we can find and correct an issue before it becomes serious it allows us to keep our trees happy and healthy for many years to come.

-Greg Huse, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist and Tree Collection Manager


Entry filed under: Collections, Trees. Tags: , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Linda Burman  |  February 20, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    A huge 200 yr old American Elm graces the back yard of this property on which I live in Agyle, Texas. The magnificence and beauty of it is amazing. Not knowing how to care for it I am at a loss. Please help me with knowing about your tree care solutions for such a treasured tree.
    Thank you,
    Linda Burman

    • 2. smithsoniangardens  |  March 22, 2018 at 11:39 am

      Hi Linda, It sounds like a beautiful tree! We recommend that you reach out to your local master gardener association (Denton County Master Gardener Association – for advice on caring for trees in your area. They will likely have some recommendations on ways to find a certified arborist in your area to help you with any issues specific to the tree.


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