Manchester trees perish, despite hardy reputation


MANCHESTER -- Planted just last month, Main Street's 50 new trees were supposed to replace an equal number of dying maple trees with generations of leafy splendor.

Instead, 35 of the snazzy new Pennsylvania State University hybrids are all but dead.

"It's been a disappointment," said Councilwoman Charlotte B. Collette, who spearheaded the replanting effort. "They put them in, and, a week later, some of them are dead."

They weren't supposed to die, those zelkovas.

The hybrid, developed at Penn State and donated to the town by Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., are supposed to withstand the strain of phone poles and utility lines.

The town last year looked into the zelkova planting program after noticing that the stately maples lining Main Street -- some of them more than 150 years old -- were decaying, disease-ravaged and fragile.

More than 30 of the maples along the east side of the street were tagged, dug up and made into mulch and lumber last October, giving them one last summer to throw their magnificent shade onto the street and into homeowners' yards.

People who owned the land from which the maples were removed were offered the lumber from them. Town officials also asked homeowners to pick up the tab for repairing sidewalks damaged in the tree-removal process.

And while the town noticed an equal number of diseased trees on the west side of Main Street, officials will not repeat the process again until this fall at the earliest.

The zelkovas brought with them a promise of hardiness. Experts said they look similar to maples but are not as susceptible to insect damage or growth problems. When fully grown -- after 10 years or so -- the zelkovas will throw a canopy of shade along the street just as the maples did.

Why 35 of the 50 trees died remains a mystery.

They came to town already several years old and 6 feet tall, Collette said.

BG&E;, the county and the university will replace the trees, perhaps as early as this week.

The utility purchased the trees in an effort to test their adaptability to urban settings and to figure out how best to landscape along their rights of way, officials said.

"The gas and electric company has assured us it is going to right this wrong," Collette said.

The maple replacement is the latest effort of the town's TREEmendous Committee, an organization founded by former Councilwoman Diane D. Maddox. In the past year, the committee has planted 50 disease-resistant dogwoods as well as organized the planting of 1,500 white pine seedlings by town fourth-graders throughout the Manchester Watershed area.

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