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Cambridge asks residents to help water city’s trees during drought

“Residents and businesses can play a critical role in this effort by ... watering street trees adjacent to their property.”

David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe, File

Every part of Massachusetts is experiencing a drought, and the bone-dry conditions in Cambridge have officials asking residents to pitch-in to help maintain the city’s urban forest. 

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The city said the recent July heat wave and ongoing drought conditions have “significantly stressed” both new and older trees there. 

Andrew Putnam, Cambridge’s public works superintendent of urban forestry, said in a statement that the most important thing people can do is help water the trees near their home. 

“This is the most sustainable way to water, and we’re asking any residents and businesses who are able to please do their part by filling a Gator Bag on a tree or drenching the soil in a nearby tree well,” Putnam said.

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The month of July was one of the Boston area’s hottest and driest ever. According to the National Weather Service, only .62 inches of rain were recorded in the area in July 2022. 

Staff from Cambridge’s urban forestry department are operating three water trucks to water street trees across the city throughout the day. The city’s water department and “water-by-bike” staff are also assisting with watering trees each day. 

Street trees generally need about 20 gallons of water each week from May to October, but during heat and drought conditions, the trees should be watered at least two or three times a week, according to the city. If there is compacted soil around the tree, city officials recommend residents loosen the dirt with a trowel to allow the water to penetrate and prevent runoff. 

The city is currently in a “level 3-critical” drought status. Because of the number of trees in Cambridge, officials said city staff alone can’t water every tree.

“Protecting our Urban Forest is a top priority of the city, and our residents and businesses can play a critical role in this effort by assisting us by watering street trees adjacent to their property,” Owen O’Riordan, Cambridge’s acting city manager, said in a statement. “While we are in a level-3 critical drought, the amount of water we are asking residents to provide street trees is insignificant in terms of drought impact on our water supply.”

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While in a drought, the city is also asking residents to stop or minimize all unnecessary outdoor watering (tree-watering is considered acceptable); check for any water leaks; refrain from running water while doing dishes, washing your hands, or brushing your teeth; and only flush toilets when needed. 

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