City of Cambridge asks Residents for Assistance in Supporting its Urban Forest During this Summer's Heat and Drought Conditions

The City of Cambridge is asking residents and local businesses for assistance in maintaining its healthy urban forest, which includes trees on streets, in parks, on private property, and campuses. Recent extreme heat and the current drought have significantly stressed many new and mature trees throughout the city. These trees provide essential shade, clean the air, and support a living ecosystem.

"The most important thing people can do is help by watering trees near their home," said Public Works Superintendent of Urban Forestry Andrew Putnam. "This is the most sustainable way to water, and we're asking any residents and businesses who are able to please do their part by filling a Gator Bag on a tree or drenching the soil in a nearby tree well."

The City's Urban Forestry Division is responsible for planting, watering, and maintaining all trees on city property, and crews have deployed proactive strategies. Currently, staff are operating three water trucks to water street trees across the city from early morning until evening. The Parks Division, along with the Cambridge Water Department, are also assisting in watering, and the City’s Water-by-Bike staff water trees 8 hours daily. The City's tree planting contractor is also running multiple trucks to water newly planted street trees that are two years and younger, six days per week.

“Protecting our Urban Forest is a top priority of the city, and our residents and businesses can play a critical role in this effort by assisting us by watering street trees adjacent to their property,” said Owen O’Riordan, Acting City Manager. “While we are in a level-3 critical drought, the amount of water we are asking residents to provide street trees is insignificant in terms of drought impact on our water supply.”

Given the size of the city's Urban Forest, the city alone cannot water every tree. In drought conditions like this, residents and businesses can play a critical role in protecting street trees in their neighborhoods by watering trees:

  • Generally, street trees need approximately 20 gallons of water per week from May to October.
    • However, in heat and drought conditions, it is recommended that trees are watered at least 2-3 times a week.
  • Many young trees can be easily watered by filling the green Gator Bag attached to the tree with 20 gallons of water using a garden hose or container to fill the bag.
    • Water can be slowly poured on the base of the tree directly if it does not have a Gator Bag or is well-established.
  • Compacted soil reduces water's ability to infiltrate the soil and can lead to water runoff.
    • Residents can gently loosen the soil with a trowel in such situations so water can better penetrate the ground.
  • If a tree is small enough and doesn't have a Gator Bag, residents can go to DPW at 147 Hampshire St and get a Gator Bag from the Front Desk to attach to the tree to assist with the watering
  • Residents who see a tree in distress should report it through SeeClickFix so DPW can try to assess and/or water the tree.

Additionally, residents are encouraged to participate in the Cambridge Urban Forest Friends program. City crews cannot get to every tree enough in the warmer months to water, mulch, and weed all of the new and young trees in the city. The public's assistance in ensuring these trees get a good start is needed. Members of the public, groups, or organizations looking for a one-day volunteer opportunity can contact

As of July 21, 2022, Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Bethany Card declared that the Cambridge drought level has changed to a Level 3-Critical Drought, and the Cambridge Water Department is actively monitoring Cambridge's drought status.

The significant drought conditions require close coordination among local, state, and federal agencies, with a substantial emphasis on water conservation and more stringent watering restrictions. Watering street trees is an acceptable use for outdoor watering as protecting the tree canopy is a critical strategy in the City's climate change mitigation efforts.

As a reminder, the Cambridge Water Department strongly recommends practicing the following water conservation tips:

  • Stop or minimize all unnecessary outdoor watering (street tree watering is an acceptable use);
  • Look and listen to see if you have any water leaking, checking toilets often;
  • Never let water run while doing dishes, brushing teeth, or washing hands;
  • Flush toilets only when needed.

Learn more about water conservation at

Page was posted on 7/28/2022 4:56 PM
Page was last modified on 7/28/2022 5:07 PM
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