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Plant Talk

Plant Health

Posted in Garden News on August 26, 2021, by Todd Forrest

Todd Forrest is the Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture & Living Collections at The New York Botanical Garden.


Two NYBG arborists in long sleeved shirts and hard hats take notes while standing in a lush green forest, surrounded by trees and vines

Every five years, we collect data in the Thain Family Forest to inform and guide our ongoing management practices.

This is the final installment of a five-part series on caring for NYBG’s magnificent trees.

The Garden’s tree collections and natural landscapes are home to a bewildering array of insects and diseases. Over the past century, diseases such as chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease and insects such as the hemlock woolly adelgid have seriously impacted the Garden’s trees and changed the face of the landscape. Curators regularly scout the collections on the lookout for new infestations. When one is found, plant health experts apply the principles of integrated pest management to address the problem. Cultural and mechanical methods of treatment are applied where practical, and, when all else fails, the least toxic, most specialized controls are implemented. Of course the best defense against devastating loss of trees is planting a diversity of species and keeping trees as healthy as possible.

Even the Garden’s natural landscapes need informed stewardship. Ongoing ecological restoration efforts in the 50-acre Thain Family Forest counteract the effects of environmental stresses and promote the growth of native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. Over the years, thousands of invasive species have been removed and tens of thousands of native plants planted in their place. Where possible these native plants have been grown from seed collected in the Forest. The ultimate goal of the restoration efforts is to create a Forest that can sustain native plant populations with minimal human intervention.

While at first glance the trees that define the Garden’s historic landscape appear entirely shaped by nature, they are the masterpieces of Living Collections developed by generations of curators working to serve the institution’s mission as a museum of plants. Arborists apply ever-evolving tools and techniques to keep the Garden’s most venerable trees healthy and beautiful, and they add new specimens each year to ensure the collections remain diverse, inspiring, and relevant. Together the ancient native trees across the landscape, the ever-changing systematic collections, and the new plantings each year make The New York Botanical Garden a dendrologist’s dream.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 edition of Garden News.

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