Kentucky coffee tree

John Goodfellow and Sara Rottunda, planting a Kentucky coffee tree on school grounds, Marine on St. Croix.


It may have been a rainy Saturday morning, but the dozen Marine community volunteers were energized and ready to get to work planting trees. 

Fifteen bare-root northern Catalpa and Kentucky coffee trees had spent the summer growing in the community’s new gravel bed, a simple wood frame structure of irrigated gravel. This growing method increases the chances that a tree will survive when later planted in soil. 

Forest adviser John Goodfellow explained that, “Transplanting is a stressful time for any plant because a lot of its root system is lost when it’s removed from the ground. Trees grown in a gravel bed are easier to harvest. There is no digging required. The trees are gently pulled, and the loose gravel simply falls away from the fine fibrous roots.”

An added bonus for this Marine urban forest project: the cost of bare root stock is significantly less than similar container-grown or balled-and-burlap trees. 

The trees were planted on Oct. 19, in Burris Park, at the Marine Folk School, at Oakland Cemetery, along the walking paths in Jackson Meadow, and in a few residential yards where they replaced dead trees. 

This is the Marine Forest Advisory Committee’s first tree planting event, but it won’t be its last.

The Marine urban forest is comprised of nearly 1,000 trees. Goodfellow noted that many large specimen trees are now approaching the end of their life, whether from natural mortality or tree disease like oak wilt. Ten percent of Marine’s urban forest are ash trees, which will be vulnerable to the emerald ash borer larvae.

The newly formed Marine Forest Advisory Committee is planning ahead for future plantings. They will identify which species to grow next year from the DNR list of tree species likely to do well in this area despite climate change. 

Kentucky coffee trees, despite the name, are Minnesota natives that do well in both cold and heat and are good replacements for ash trees. Marine is already home to the largest northern Catalpa in the state. This tall specimen shade tree has fragrant white flowers in spring and long pods that stay on the tree all winter. 

Work on Marine’s urban forest program and community gravel bed was supported by the St. Croix Watershed Steward program. The Conservation Corps assisted with construction of the gravel bed, with the support from MPCA. The project would not have been possible without the support of the Marine City Council, and the participation by dozens of citizen volunteers.

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