Home News Environment Brookline Public Works Provides Guidance For Supporting Tree Health Amid Extended Drought

Brookline Public Works Provides Guidance For Supporting Tree Health Amid Extended Drought


The Brookline Parks and Open Space Division wishes to provide an update on drought conditions in the community, as well as guidance for residents on how they can support tree health town-wide.

Communities across the southeast region and within the Charles River Watershed, including Brookline, have been issued a Level 3 Drought Status (Critical Drought) by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Additionally, Brookline’s streams are in low-flow conditions, groundwater reserves are decreasing and the risk for drought-induced fires has increased.

The Town’s drinking water is sourced from the Quabbin Reservoir, which has been carefully managed and has seen a successful reduction in water usage over the past several decades. While water levels at the reservoir are within the normal operating range for this time of year, it is important to conserve water and support the water conservation efforts of the communities immediately surrounding the reservoir.

While there are no current restrictions on water consumption for drinking, irrigation or other uses, this critical drought has resulted in significant environmental impacts.

Intensely dry conditions can cause trees to experience “drought stress”, which kills young roots and reduces the plant’s ability to absorb sufficient water. If trees – particularly young trees without extensive root systems – do not receive adequate rainfall or sufficient supplementary watering, a sharp increase in tree mortality is likely.

Trees are invaluable to Brookline’s ecosystem, not only for their aesthetic importance, but also for their numerous environmental functions, including the reduction of flooding, energy consumption and air pollution. Every year, the Parks and Open Space Division plants approximately 350 to 400 new trees along streets and in parks throughout Brookline.

While regular spring planting operations were delayed due to COVID-19, planting efforts are underway this fall. In order to keep young street trees healthy, the town is calling upon members of the community to help.

Residents with a new or young street tree in front of their property are asked to water it frequently until the first hard frost. Trees need at least 10-15 gallons of water applied to their roots every 7-10 days during a drought. If there is a “Tree Gator” slow-release watering bag on the base of a street tree, be sure to keep it filled with water. Look out for indicators such as wilting and dropping leaves, which may be symptoms of drought stress. If you see a tree that is damaged or needs additional care, please call the Brookline Parks and Open Space Division at 617-879-5650.

For private trees and landscaping, the Parks and Open Space Division recommends capturing rainwater in rain barrels and using this source for outdoor watering. Larger, established trees with well-developed root systems should be watered every two to three weeks. Residents should let the top few inches of soil dry out between watering to avoid saturated conditions, which may damage the roots.

Those looking to plant on private property are urged to consider planting drought-resistant plants and trees. Contact an arborist or private tree company if you have a private tree in need of additional attention.

Winter is steadily approaching and we’ve compiled a list of several tips to help you prepare your private trees for the season ahead:

  • Freshen the mulch around your tree(s) by adding two to four inches of wood chips, bark or other organic matter (such as leaves) near the base of the tree(s) (but not against it).
  • Prune. Make sure all deadwood is pruned away before the snow comes! Please note that residents are prohibited from doing work, such as pruning, on Town-owned trees.
  • Remove any slow-release watering bags as soon as winter arrives and the ground freezes. The tree trunk and tree flare should be exposed to the air.
  • Remove any dead or declining trees. Trees that are in significant decline should be removed by a qualified tree removal company.