This year, Big George, the large evergreen in the corner of the northwest quadrant of Eastern Market Metro Plaza, will spend a much quieter holiday than usual. Little George, its little sibling that stands across Pennsylvania Avenue, will be lit up instead as Big George takes some time to rebuild its strength.
The 45-foot blue Atlas cedar was selected by the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District (BID) to be planted in honor of well-known community supporter, president of National Capital Bank and founding BID President George Didden III. It made a cross-country trip from Oregon, arriving in September 2007.
Only a 20-foot evergreen when it was planted, Big George was first illuminated for the holidays in December 2007, just days before Didden himself passed away.
Since then, the tree has grown at least two feet every year and has played a central part in the Capitol Hill holiday celebrations every December, said BID President Patty Brosmer.
But this summer, the Capitol Hill BID noticed it was starting to look a little bit under the weather, Brosmer said. Branches were less green and full, and the tree looked dry, even for an exceptionally hot Hill summer. The BID reached out to Bartlett Tree Experts of Gaithersburg, MD to diagnose the problem and propose a plan to save the tree.
“The tree has suffered some trauma, but it is under care and there’s a good chance it will fully recover,” said Tim Zastrow, arborist representative at Bartlett. “But it will take two or three years.”
Zastrow brings a lot of experience to the care of Big George. He has been an arborist since 1985, working with Bartlett since 2001. When he did an initial assessment of Big George in early July, he found that Big George has a compromised vascular system which makes it difficult for the tree to move water and nutrients up from the soil and to move sugars down to feed the roots. As a result, there are fewer green needles and the branches have a dry appearance.
Zastrow said that because the tree is compromised, it is also attractive to borers or chewing insects. These pests, often the larvae of various beetles, feed on the inner bark and wood of trees, disrupting the normal flow of water and nutrients and weakening the wood.
Zastrow said that he will take samples from the tree to ensure that it has been correctly diagnosed. “Once we’ve got the lab test back, we’ll treat to prevent root damage, to improve soil conditions, and to prevent borers, and then Big George will have to grow.”
Zastrow said that the treatment will involve both natural and chemical products, as there are no natural treatments for borers. Treatment will be limited to the tree and only used as long as Big George needs help.
“Nothing that we’re using will be dangerous to children or pets,” he said. “They won’t be exposed.”
Zastrow said the prognosis for Big George is excellent, as indicated by new growth coming in on the branches. Still, he said that it will likely be two years before Big George is looking fully healthy again. During the course of treatment, Zastrow said that the BID should avoid decorating Big George for the holidays.
“It’s just additional stress,” said Zastrow. “When a tree is healing, you don’t want it to lose any live tissue. Decorating the tree runs the risk of breaking small branches, and we don’t want that to happen.”
The Hope Tree
The tree will recover with the help of a little loving care, and at least a one-year break from the season’s celebrations. Fortunately, Big George has a little sibling to help out during the holidays.
Another evergreen, known affectionately as ‘Little George,’ was planted by the BID in the Southwest quadrant (across the street from the Southeast Library) in spring 2007.
Little George has flourished ever since, and will be decorated for the 2019 Community Holiday Tree Lighting event, which will move to the southwest parcel.
Continuing with the holiday tradition, the Capitol Hill BID Men in Blue will serve hot chocolate and donuts while local musical talents perform holiday favorites. Members of the Didden family are expected to attend and to flip the switch to turn on the festive lights adorning Little George, which was also planted in honor of George Didden III and his many contributions to the Capitol Hill community.
Little George has had a role in the holiday festivities before. In 2008, Little George was decorated for the holidays by teens in the BID’s Youth Empowerment for Success (Y.E.S.) program. The youth made ornaments to adorn its branches describe what they hope for this holiday season.
They called it the “Hope Tree”.
Eleven years later, Little George will step up to carry holiday hopes once again, and to give Big George the time to recover. Brosmer said it is fortunate that the community has another tree around which to gather, allowing for continuity in the tradition.
Learn more about the Capitol Hill Holiday Tree Lighting tradition by visiting capitolhillbid.org/events/holiday-tree-lighting. Learn more about Bartlett Tree Experts by visiting batlett.com