Despite the lifting of the Coronavirus stay-at-home order this month, we must all continue to stay safe in our offices, and in the field – while supporting important projects that build community wellness and resiliency. The Albuquerque NeighborWoods Program is an excellent example of how our municipalities and community organizations have adapted to our evolving reality.

From Spring 2017 to Spring 2020, The Albuquerque NeighborWoods Program has planted 1,436 trees, and given away more than 1,400 trees to community members in participating neighborhoods. Groundwork Studio is proud to have been able to participate in both the program development (in partnership with Councilor Benton’s office, Tree New Mexico, The New Mexico Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, and New Mexico State Forestry Urban and Community Forestry Program) and as volunteers in multiple community planting events.

Community Tree Plantings – A New, COVID-Safe Approach

A typical Albuquerque NeighborWoods tree planting involves gathering community volunteers to work together to plant trees. Since the pandemic, we can no longer have large groups of strangers planting together and must shift our approach while continuing to engage people and increase forest canopy in our city.

To ensure everyone stays safe during tree plantings, Tree New Mexico (the City’s non-profit consultant leading the NeighborWoods Program) now sends an email outlining new protocol prior to the planting date. To practice social distancing, those who have previously participated in NeighborWoods plantings are instructed to arrive only with members of their household and wait at their car for planting assignments. This minimizes instruction and contact with one another. Everyone is required to wear a mask – no exceptions, and gloves are always highly recommended for tree planting activities. Those volunteering individually are assigned small trees such as Desert Willow and Redbud.

Upon arrival, Tree New Mexico staff brings any necessary tools such as shovels, rakes, and hoes – all sanitized and wiped down. Individuals may bring their own tools from home. Additionally, volunteers are given a map of their area along with a spreadsheet of each address and tree species to be planted in a sanitized plastic Ziploc bag. Volunteers are also given a bucket with an exacto knife, pruning knife, and a spray bottle of hand sanitizer.

Each house where a tree is to be planted has a hole dug prior to the planting day, along with a tree and mulch waiting on-site. Homeowners are instructed to leave their hoses out and turned off. After planting the tree, volunteers sanitize the hose, use it to water, then sanitize once again. Once completed with planting, volunteers may call the organizer to return tools after spraying them down with sanitizer and be on their way!

While we all miss contact with one another, we are doing our best to continue improving the urban forest canopy in the City of Albuquerque and connecting people with trees.

NeighborWoods tree plantings mapped from 2017-2020.