John Thomas, associate director of the Urban Forestry Association, is asking D.C. residents to take five to 10 minutes every couple days to do a task they can complete with a coffee cup in hand.
Thomas is leading the Canopy Keeper initiative, which invites citizens to adopt trees in their neighborhoods to ensure that they are watered, mulched and weeded.
"We make sure that someone is either watering or caring for [our trees] in their first two years of development," Thomas said.
The Canopy Keeper project is through the Urban Forestry Association, a segment of the District Department of Transportation. The group has planted more than 4,000 trees in D.C. this year. DDOT foresters challenge themselves to plant trees in a new area of the District each year, and then engage residents of that area in their program.
"Most people are more than involved and are contacting us," Thomas said. "They get the benefit of the shade and air quality."
To become a "Canopy Keeper," residents are asked to sign an agreement that they will water, mulch and weed the adopted trees. Then, they are issued a 10-gallon watering tub from the city. To ensure they stick to their commitment, Thomas said DDOT employees send e-mails to remind volunteers to water the trees.
The Canopy Keeper initiative is a small part of a larger effort to increase the city's canopy from 35 percent to 40 percent by 2035. The District's Forest Action Plan outlines this goal, as well as other goals to sustain and increase the city's green-standing.
"The key is maintaining the existing trees we have rather than a planting goal," Thomas said. "In the time that you're planting trees, if you don't manage what you have, it doesn't balance up."
Thomas said that so far, 1,500 trees have been adopted. He said that the next stage in the program is to implement block captains for further neighborhood involvement. As of right now, he said it is mostly individual home owners who are interested in adopting trees.
In the current record-breaking heat conditions, those who nurture trees may receive sustenance in return. According to a local nonprofit, Casey Trees, homes shaded by trees have 10-30 percent greater savings in air conditioning costs compared to homes without shade. Annually, trees in DC help save about $2.6 million in air conditioning costs.