Hinesburg residents try tree planting for Green Up Day on the Town Common

Lush green fields and rolling farmlands frame the drive into Hinesburg on Route 116, which was strangely devoid of Green Up Dayers on an overcast but temperate morning last Saturday. 

That might’ve been because residents were busy with another environmentally friendly project downtown. 

On the Hinesburg Town Common behind the police and fire stations, a band of volunteers put on a tree-care workshop received by perhaps two dozen attendees throughout the day.

Photo by Marie Ambusk.
Workshop volunteer Nick Kierstead explains pruning while up in an ash tree in Hinesburg on Green Up Day.

The workshop demonstrated the “three Ps,” said organizer Andrea Morgante, longtime town government participant and noted greenthumb: planting, pruning and procurement. The hope is to train volunteers who will take an active role in planting and caring for the 50-plus trees set to occupy the green space over the next two years.

Morgante was one of the people who helped Hinesburg get a $30,000 state grant in January to fund that work.

It’s only the first step in a detailed plan to revamp the area, which has existed since the mid-2000s, with amenities like a playground, gazebo and expanded parking.  

“The idea of having a pavilion or a grandstand, having live music, local bands, that’s what brings a community together,” said arborist and workshop volunteer Nick Kierstead, who lives in Hinesburg with his wife and 1-year-old daughter. “It’s good to emphasize how much impact a gathering space in Hinesburg could have. People want to gather, and we don’t have a space to do that.” 

Kierstead delighted audiences by scaling a sprawling ash tree on the northeast corner of the common, handsaw strapped to his shin and a helmet on his head, and revving his chainsaw at the top to provide the town with some “free pruning.” The sight made sense given his background working for a power company in Colorado and Montana. He and other workers would drop into remote areas and clear vegetation from power lines. 

Teetering on a bough 30 feet above the ground, Kierstead described the importance of context when pruning trees. “I wouldn’t prune this tree like a forest tree and vice versa,” he said, explaining how a tree like the one he was standing on would tend to grow straight up like an arrow, with a narrower canopy, when in a dense forest. Without competition from other trees, the one on the common had developed a chaotic spread of limbs. 

Photo by Marie Ambusk Andrea Morgante, center, poses with Sara Lovitz and her kids during the workshop.
Photo by Marie Ambusk.
Andrea Morgante, center, poses with Sara Lovitz and her kids during the workshop.

Master gardener Marie Ambusk instructed visitors on proper pruning practices. To say trees are her passion would be an understatement; the word is stamped across the license plate of her white Toyota SUV. She snipped away at the pesky low-hanging branches of one young honey locust tree. 

“The worst time to prune a tree is right now because the tree is waking up (from the winter), and it is very stressful to wake up,” Ambusk said. “The worst time is when the buds are opening.”  

Ambusk fielded questions about technique from onlookers as the brush pile mounted behind her. There are a lot of rules when it comes to pruning trees, she said, such as not removing more than a third of the tree’s growth in a single growing season. Cuts should be made just outside the spot where a branch meets the trunk, or branch collar, and end in the smallest possible circle. Precision is vital: Cuts too far outside the branch collar result in stubs, while flush cuts damage the branch collar and open the tree up to rot and decay. 

Volunteers were apprehensive, then, when Ambusk asked if they would like to try pruning. She tried to assuage their fears by admitting, “At a certain point, it becomes a little subjective what you’re doing.”  

Xander Patterson, a 61-year-old Hinesburg resident, made a couple of cuts to the tree while his 2-year-old dog Louie tramped between the legs of observers. He came because he was curious about the plans for the area and wanted to support the community. “I’m very glad the town is doing this whether I use it much or not,” he said. 

Sara Lovitz, who lives right across the street, brought along her kids: Zeke, 8, and Gabe, 5. She’s excited to see the development of the lot, she said, and anticipates being part of the team dedicated to the upkeep of the trees. She wants to encourage her kids to do the same.  

As the event stretched on, more visitors arrived, no doubt drawn in part by a table sporting Vermont cider donuts. Cyclists stopped to chat with their neighbors and dogs chased tennis balls across the lawn as Ambusk and Morgante demonstrated how to plant ball-and-burlap trees.

(The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.)