by David McAtee, Public Information Officer, Yavapai County Board of Supervisors

Since the planting of the first trees in 1879 at the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza in downtown Prescott, the Plaza has evolved into a popular gathering place for citizens and visitors alike, partly due to the inviting cool shade of the “urban forest.”

Yavapai County Facilities Director Kenny Van Keuren was recently asked to explain the need for the recent removal and replacement of numerous trees.

“In the ’60s, the trees were topped, meaning the tops of the trees were cut off. At the time, this was a common method of trimming but is no longer recommended. In the case of the Plaza trees, topping created spaces where water could pool and soak into the tree, which eventually rotted out the center of several trees.” 

Van Keuren went on to explain they knew they had a problem when they cut down a tree showing signs of rot and discovered the majority of the tree was hollow with only a thin shell remaining.

This unfortunate condition had created a dangerous situation that required quick and decisive action to protect visitors from potential injury due to weakened trees that could break and fall.

Yavapai County officials called in a local arborist to assess the situation, and they also purchased a machine to sonically assess the density of the trees.

With the information gathered, the experts compiled a list of trees that were a potential danger and needed to come down. 

Van Keuren and his staff developed and submitted to the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors a long-term plan to remove old sick trees and replace them with younger trees. 

Van Keuren said, “This will ensure that for the next 20 to 30 years and beyond, we will have vibrant, healthy, sustainable trees surrounding the Courthouse.” 

A second concern of the trees faced by the officials was an infestation of European Elm Scale. 

Heavy scale infestations cause premature yellowing and shedding of leaves and dieback of twigs and branches. It also produces large amounts of honeydew, a sugar-rich sticky liquid secreted by scale insects as they feed on tree sap. Honeydew can cause additional dieback in healthy trees. 

The solution was to drill several small holes at the base of each tree and insert a small plastic piece just at the right depth. This technique allowed the grounds crew to inject a pesticide directly into the tree and kill off the insect from the inside. 

Van Keuren observed, “If you look at the tops of the trees you can already see the dieback starting to recover. The tops of the trees are more vibrant with more growth than last year. We are hopeful this renewed growth will continue in future years.”

The final issue Van Keuren and his staff are fighting is over-crowding.  Large trees should be spaced about 40 feet apart. In some places throughout the Plaza, the trees are only 10 to 15 feet apart.  This adversely effects the older trees, as well as the new trees and grass, by preventing proper exposure to direct sunlight. 

The long-term sustainable plan, already in progress, is to continue to monitor the trees and remove the ones that appear to be at risk of breaking.

A dozen trees have already been removed and are being replaced by young, properly spaced trees resistant to disease. Proper maintenance and care will encourage sustained growth. 

Van Keuren said, “Yavapai County has an incredible staff of grounds-care professionals who are passionate about the work they do. Building Maintenance Supervisor Ken Schultz and Maintenance Grounds Supervisor Geoffrey Crooks and their crews take pride in ensuring the Plaza is safe, looks beautiful and can be enjoyed by generations to come.”

If you haven’t visited the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza, now is the time. Come see the trees decorated with lights, the weather is just perfect.