Effort to sustain tree-lined banks of Medford street unexpectedly backfires.

Nine years after a neighborhood partnership with the city sprouted to save a charming tree-lined street in east Medford, the urban forest is wilting.

Not only are many of the 80-year-old trees on Queen Anne Avenue still in need of attention or removal, but many of the young replacement trees planted in recent years are struggling or dying.

"You're talking $35,000 worth of tree care (that's needed), or more," said Bill Harrington, hired three years ago as the city arborist. The city doesn't pick up the tab — that cost falls on the residents.

In 1999, neighbors got wind that the city was concerned about the danger posed by dead limbs and rotting trees along the five-block-long Queen Anne Avenue, home to Roosevelt Elementary School. They rallied together to protect the towering canopy created by 100 silver maples likely planted in the 1920s and 1930s.

In 2000, the city and Queen Anne residents formed a pilot street tree partnership using a $3,000 state grant to start a pruning and replacement program.

Harrington applauds the "very noble effort' of the residents, but said things should have been done differently to create and maintain a thriving urban forest.

Bob Cortelyou, who has lived on the street for more than a decade, said the majestic trees that create a leafy tunnel in the summertime are Queen Anne's main attraction.

"When we bought this house it was primarily for the street," he said.

But Harrington said the towering canopy's days are numbered, and he doesn't know if it can be recreated.

"I think to some degree but not to this degree," he said.

Harrington acknowledges the old silver maples create an attractive ambiance and can cool the city street 30 degrees on a hot summer day.

"This closed canopy is sort of impressive," he said. "From a scientific standpoint, it's a nightmare."

A silver maple's roots could have a 60-foot diameter, he said, and the Queen Anne trees don't have much room to grow. Planting a hundred trees of one species at the same time is dangerous because they will reach the end of their life cycle together and one tree disease could wipe them all out at once.

Several silver maples have been removed in the past seven years, but there's still pruning and removal needed, he said. Many of the trees have parasitic mistletoe that needs to be cut out, and some have large cavities revealing a hollow core — meaning they are at risk of falling and must be cut down.

Scarlet oaks and sugar maples, which grow to 80 feet high, were planted as replacement trees on Queen Anne when linden, flowering plum and ash trees, which grow to 30 feet high, would have been more appropriate selections, Harrington said.

Darrol Jameson has lived on Queen Anne for 29 years. A pine tree in the public right of way fell on his house several years ago, and he had to remove the silver maple in front because it was hollow and rotten. He said he wants to work with the city to plant two replacement trees this spring.

Harrington said he'll work with Jameson to plant appropriate trees in a way they can thrive.

"I think it's important that the city rekindle its relationship with Queen Anne," said Harrington. "Obviously our work is not done over there."

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.