The Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department is using grant funding and new growing techniques to put more trees in the ground around the city.

About a year ago, City Forester Rob Davis was looking at how many trees the city had removed — because of insect damage, old age or other causes — compared with how many replacements were planned. The numbers didn’t match up and Davis decided he needed to find a way to plant more trees for less money.

“The problem is our available budget for nursery stock, if you’re buying containerized trees or balled and burlapped bigger trees, you’re just not going to get very far,” Davis said. “They add up really quick and will eat a budget up really quick.”

For traditionally grown trees in containers or burlap, Davis said the price is around $120 a tree. For smaller bare-root trees, it’s only around $40 a tree, but they would need to be given a head start. Davis said another Parks and Recreation staff member had been experimenting with growing a catalpa tree in an aquaponic system — where plants are grown in water and utilize fish to help with fertilization.

“I couldn’t find anybody that ever tried it with trees,” Davis said. “I’ve yet to find anybody who’s tried to do it with trees. So I just put together a grant proposal around that idea. I know Parks and Rec with the city just has this long-term reputation for being kind of creative.”

The city was successful in that grant application and received $1,500 from the Colorado Tree Coalition, which went toward the $9,000 total cost for the aquaponic bed. Last spring, bare-root trees were planted in that bed and will be ready to be planted in city parks or along city streets at the end of this month. Compared to trees from containers, Davis said the aquaponic trees will be able to develop a more natural root system.

“My hope is that longterm, these trees will be much more structurally sound in how their root system develops and be able to establish more quickly,” Davis said. “Roots don’t stop growing when the tree goes dormant. They stop growing when the soils really freeze and get too cold. By doing a fall planting, my hope is with some winter watering we can establish these trees when the upper parts are dormant.”

While the new aquaponic system is helping to establish more trees, the city is still planting traditionally grown trees this fall. Davis said it has already planted about 65 trees throughout the city. In total it plans to plant around 150 trees this fall.

Right now, the city’s urban tree canopy consists of 37,000 trees, which are maintained by the city’s Parks and Recreation staff. Davis said healthy trees throughout the community contribute to residents’ lives in many ways, from providing oxygen and shade to increasing property values. There is also an intangible value to having a healthy urban tree system.

“Having that green impact and having that visual kind, sets people’s view of what this city is,” Davis said. “To me that’s really important when people stop and visit. If they’re coming here to see their kids in school, if they’re coming in for a tournament, I want that quick impression of Grand Junction to be, ‘Wow, what a beautiful place. This must be a good place to live.’”