Last week's rains came too late for the 3,000 seedlings planted thisyear in the Route 100-Route 10 median strip. About 85 percent have died, the victims of the summer drought.

But the contractor who planted the trees has agreed to plant new ones for no additional charge,state officials said.

"There was nothing we could do about it. The draught has absolutely devastated many of our plantings from this year. I've started to remove some of the tubes from the dead ones in the median strip. I'd say somewhere around 15 percent of those trees have survived," said Walter Orlinsky, director of the state sponsored Tree-Mendous Maryland program.

The oaks and pines, planted in 4-foot-high beige "greenhouse tubes," replaced a five-acre forest bulldozed for the road project. They were among 1.25 million trees planted statewide in April in the "Tree-mendous" reforestation program, Orlinsky said.

Plantings in several other counties also have been hit hard this summer, Orlinsky says.

But 1990 was an unusually good year, so the Tree-mendous program is on track to achieve a statewide goal of "no net loss" of trees by the year 2000.

The county's other major plantings -- alongthe Interstate 97-Route 3 corridor, the Interstate 95-195 interchange and the Route 50-Sandy Point State Park exit -- have fared surprisingly well, with an average rate of attrition so far, said county beautification coordinator Ann Pace.

Pace said the summer's losses in North County are the flip-side of this spring's Earth Day euphoria.

"Thirty (percent) to 40 percent won't make it even in a good year. It's really depressing because it's hard to get people out to an areato plant two years in a row," Pace said.

Orlinsky, who surveyed the damage early last week, said "miserable soil" conditions created by highway construction crews were probably responsible for the roadside sapling slaughter.

"The topsoil was stripped and what was left behind was a lot of road debris from the project that was then compacted and re-compacted by every construction truck imaginable. Even if you did get a good rain it would probably run off of it now," he said.

He is also looking into the possibility that the greenhouse tubes that accelerate the growth during wet growing seasons may be compounding the problem in dry seasons by concentrating heat in the tube.

Neither the state nor the county have access to watering trucks to counter the effects of droughts like the one that has plagued Maryland since mid-May.

Most highway plantings are out of range of municipal water supplies, Orlinsky said.

Orlinsky and Pace said they aretrying find ways to get water to seedlings and transplants during dry periods.

One possibility is to persuade local fire departments to conduct their tests near seedlings, though the high water pressure may do as much damage as good.

Also, Orlinsky said the fire hoses developed in the past five years are made of fibers that don't decay in storage and don't need to be tested as often as old hoses did.

Though he doesn't suggest that citizens pull over into the breakdown lane to water state trees along the highway, Orlinsky says the tree-kill in Pasadena illustrates the need for individuals to care for weakor sick-looking trees that they have access to.

"One message I want to get out to people is that it's OK to get out and water a tree. Whenever you reach for an iced tea, the tree in your yard could use adrink, too."

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