Though trees often go unnoticed because of how they blend into the background, two women have been working on the ground and behind the scenes to make sure the ones on campus are healthy and safe.
Susan Calhoun is the landscape coordinator of Ohio University. She takes care of the trees. She monitors them, treats them and cares for them.
Calhoun said she has been working in landscaping for 31 years. Anytime someone cuts a tree, plants a tree or moves one for construction, she knows.
There are certain trees she doesn’t want on campus, Calhoun said. Ash trees and Hemlock trees have become a problem because of pests. Cherry trees are fighting a fungus.
“We have certain trees we don’t even want on campus because of invasive (pests),” Calhoun said. “I don’t want any invasive plants. I don’t want any that are prone to disease.”
Calhoun said she works with plants other than trees, too. Those include the shrubs and flower beds around campus. She said she changes the plants in the beds when the seasons change.
OU is part of the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, which is a national self-reporting program for university sustainability, Calhoun said. There are different ratings for sustainability: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. OU is ranked silver, but Calhoun said OU is almost gold.
Calhoun also has a sidekick: Meg Little, a graduate student in environmental studies, who is the tree care coordinator for the Office of Sustainability.
She writes reports on OU for Tree Campus USA certification, which is through the Arbor Day Foundation.
“It’s basically a certification showing you value trees and education and promotion of trees and tree growth and all the services they provide,” Little said.
OU received the first certification in 2016 and again in 2017. She said to be certified, a campus must have a committee made up of faculty, staff and students that oversee tree work. The university must provide educational programming, and it must report its planting, removal and pruning, along with funding.
In 2015, OU planted 274 trees. In 2016, OU planted 102 trees, and in 2017, OU planted 96, Calhoun said.
“It’s pretty intensive to show you are trying to build your tree inventory,” Little said.
Calhoun said she couldn't provide the total cost of maintaining the landscape because it involves several contracts.
Calhoun and Little said they are working to put together a sustainable landscaping plan. Little said she believes there is room for growth in dealing with tree health.
“We’re trying to go toward more sustainable methods,” Little said. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. I’m trying to build our plan for that. How can we more intelligently deal with pests and care for our trees so we can be as healthy as possible.”
Rylie Sterling, a freshman studying retail merchandising, said she enjoys the trees on campus because they are pretty.
“Nice weather makes the plants grow,” Sterling said.
Weather is a huge factor in the care and health of the trees, Calhoun said.
“The weather rules everything we do,” Calhoun said. “The weather even impacts some of these pests. ... Nothing’s ever the same. Every season is different.”
The most challenging part of her job, Little said, is the uncertainty of climate change and intense storms.
“I feel like that is a challenge,” Little said. “One thing Susan’s been doing is trying to plant things at the northern edge of their range in the U.S. here so that they can survive if it starts getting warmer.”
Little said trees are important for things such as keeping the soil in place, providing habitats for birds, spreading oxygen and soaking up carbon dioxide.
“Trees are something that are really taken for granted,” Little said. “It’s crazy how much work goes into them and how important they are. ... They’re just so necessary, and I think trees are so inspiring.”