Are More Trees Dying Around the Washington Square Fountain — Making Tally Eleven Dead Fountain Trees Since 2009?

Updated 9:46 a.m.

Are More Trees Dying Around the Fountain Plaza?

Nine trees have died around the Fountain since Phase I’s redesign construction was completed in 2009 — many in the same locations only to be replanted in the same way with the identical result: death. There are only eight trees that circle the fountain. In two locations, trees have been replanted three times and died each time.

At the meeting of Community Board 2’s Parks Committee in March where Washington Square Park was discussed (and the contested private conservancy), Park Administrator Sarah Neilson was asked about the dying trees on the Fountain Plaza. Neilson is new to park management overall (she came from the Capital Projects division at the Parks Department and was only there for a year or two); she said the Parks Department was looking into “drainage” as the issue at the site of those trees.

The woman asking the question commented that something had to be done about the “mall-like setting” of the Fountain Plaza — with the trees continually dying there and never taking ‘root,’ so to speak. Allegedly, the Parks Department had been looking into this 3 years ago (and even at that point, a number of trees had already died).

Curious that they haven’t looked to the design by now – or maybe they have?

Years ago, when one of the first trees died, I met a landscape architect who was very familiar with structural soil, the type soil in which the Fountain trees are planted (this person trained with the woman at Cornell who invented it). He told me that the problem is the George Vellonakis design – that the trees couldn’t survive in it. He said, that, knowing how the Parks Department operated (and how political the agency was, particularly under former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe – who was in charge for ten years), the trees around the Fountain Plaza would likely keep dying over and over again. And that is exactly what has happened.

It’s important to remember that these young trees replaced healthy 40-year old trees that were axed for Bloomberg’s folly: so that the Fountain could be moved 22 feet east to “align” with the Arch.

The two trees that are currently not faring well around the fountain (west of Arch and south of Fountain):

I had written about this one tree, above (south of the fountain), in August 2013, concerned. I wrote at the time:

A few of the fountain trees — like this one above — had been faring pretty well since their initial planting at the time of the park’s redesign in 2009 (note: these trees took the place of healthy 40 year old trees which were chopped down to make way for the aligning of the fountain with the Arch, part of the Bloomberg Admin’s plan for the park). However, now this tree south of the fountain is dramatically missing leaves at its very top.

According to arborist Ralph Padilla (who told me this when I interviewed him about the state of the “Hangman’s Elm” – he was also interviewed in the NBC piece), “When the branches at the top of a tree die off, the problem is in the root area; a disturbance of the root zone.” (Construction? The lack of adequate protection around the trees?)

Note: the # of dead trees referred to here is just around the Fountain. Other trees have died at the park in other locations, in addition to all the healthy trees killed for the park’s redesign.

Previous dead trees at the park (same location, different years):


Photos: Cathryn

NBC News: Dead Trees at Washington Square Park Blamed on Parks Department on Trees Repeatedly Dying around the Fountain (I was interviewed.) September 21, 2011

Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:

Note: there are many links within the first piece below to much of the coverage that has been published here at this blog on this issue over the years:

And then there were Nine: Ninth Dead Tree Around Washington Square Fountain in Three Years July 17, 2012

Is 10th (11th?) Tree Dying Around the Fountain? August 22, 2013

Why do the Newly Planted Trees Keep Dying Around the Washington Square Park Fountain? July 11, 2011

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