NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — A small strip of grass between Narragansett High School’s front doors and its parking lot was a hive of activity last week, when students took part in planting new trees to celebrate Arbor Day.
Students in the school’s Eco Club dug into soil with their hands, loosening the roots around a young Red Maple that was about to go into a small hole in the ground.
“It was more involved than I thought it would be,” senior Aivan Durfee, an Eco Club member, said.
Durfee had never before planted a tree.
“We really want to make sure that these trees flourish. It’s exciting,” he said. “We’re always going to need more trees, you know?”
Nearby, a group of girls in the school’s Future Farmers of America program, dressed in their FFA uniforms, used a wheelbarrow to haul mulch from a dump truck to one of the six saplings that were planted Friday. Red maple, ginkgo biloba and tulip trees were planted.
The activity took place with the help of the town’s Public Works highway division crew and Deputy Public Works Director Stephen Daignault Jr.
Daignault, who also is the town’s tree warden, demonstrated to the students the way to measure how high the base of each tree should sit in the ground. The dirt hole was about 12 to 13 inches.
“We want the root ball to be just above the ground,” he said, measuring a young ginkgo biloba tree. “Burying the root ball could kill the tree.”
He also showed them how to properly spread the root system out.
“It’s very easy, you just set it in there, make sure it’s at the height you want, open the roots up a little bit, and then back fill it and add some compost and mix it in there with it,” he said. A “volcano mound” of mulch around the trunk “is the worst thing you can do for a tree,” he added.
Assisting and providing guidance was David Nickerson of Nickerson Tree & Landscape Service in Wakefield.
“You should get rid of those circling roots,” he told the students as they worked around the base of one tree. “As soon as you find a big root that circles around, you want to take it and pull it right to the outside.”
The trees that had previously been on the parking island had become rotted and infested with ants in some cases, Daignault said.
“We had branches that were falling and we were worried about them hitting cars. They were in decline,” he said.
Friday’s activity was a run-up to the main event on Saturday, when students planted more than 100 trees at residences and other areas around town as part of the national nonprofit program Tree-Plenish.
Eco Club members had a goal of taking 100 orders for trees, and ended up surpassing that by 78, adviser Kathleen Couchon said.
“This is great, it’s a nice town-school partnership,” she said.
The project started earlier this year, when the club opened tree orders up to the public. Options were to order either an Eastern Redbud or Red Maple for $5. On May 1, the students and volunteers traversed town to deliver and plant the trees, each about 18 to 24 inches in height.
Money from the fundraiser is going to help offset the high school’s paper use during the school year, according to the club.
Students calculated how much paper the school used during an academic year and converted the amount into a number of trees. The students marketed their event to the community and got residents to order trees for their property.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., stopped by before Saturday’s event to speak to the group, and state and local officeholders attended as well.