Historic Growth

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With Wormsloe’s trees in peril, The Rotary Club of Savannah and Savannah Tree Foundation stepped in to help

WORMSLOE HISTORIC SITE is one of the most photographed spots in the South, but most visitors don’t see the forest for the trees — or rather, they don’t see the trees for the forest. Taken as a whole, the Avenue of Oaks is as striking as ever. Look more closely, however, and a troubling fact emerges: Hurricanes and disease have knocked over or killed nearly 400 live oaks along the historic avenue. Fortunately, a partnership between The Rotary Club of Savannah and the Savannah Tree Foundation is turning a new leaf in 2022, and the replacement of 75 trees along the entrance kicked off in February.

“The Rotary has several areas of focus, and this last year, [the organization] added the seventh one: the environment. As soon as I heard that, I reached out to Wormsloe,” says The Rotary Club of Savannah President Marjorie Young. The idea to replant in Wormsloe was inspired by Young’s Sunday morning walks during COVID shutdowns. “I would listen to St. Thomas Episcopalian Church on my headset and walk down and back, and I started noticing all the holes, all the gaps.”

Wormsloe’s Avenue of Oaks has lost more than 400 trees to disease and hurricanes — note the stump where a live oak once stood. // Photo by MARJORIE YOUNG

Around the same time, the Savannah Tree Foundation and Wormsloe Historic Site were having conversations about how the shutdown would be a good opportunity to plant because of the reduction in car traffic, which causes stress on the trees. When Young offered the Rotary’s services, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Now, The Wormsloe Tree Replacement Project is in motion.

For both the Rotary and Savannah Tree Foundation, this is more than a beautification project; it’s an opportunity to educate the community about planting trees that have been lost from various environmental impacts. For 40 years, Savannah Tree Foundation’s mission has been to protect and grow Chatham County’s urban forest through tree planting, community engagement and advocacy. Trees are integral to Savannah’s identity. They provide shade, cool air temperatures, absorb stormwater, sequester carbon, help facilitate tourism — and they also boost property values.

“What is Savannah without its trees? [We’re] acknowledging that we care about these trees, and we need to be replanting them, not just at Wormsloe but everywhere.” — Zoe Rinker

“I think beyond recognition for Wormsloe, it’s just a good conversation-starter about the role trees play in Savannah and our identity in Savannah,” says Zoe Rinker, executive director of Savannah Tree Foundation. “What is Savannah without its trees? [We’re] acknowledging that we care about these trees, and we need to be replanting them, not just at Wormsloe but everywhere.”

The project has garnered much community support. The Isle of Hope Marina and Savannah Country Day School hosted a Pavilion Party Fundraiser in October to help offset the cost of planting the live oaks. Through community donations and the Rotary’s district grant, the organization has raised $25,000 toward the replanting of the trees, with a goal of $37,000. “The community loves this area, and they really wanted to be part of it. We had some folks even donate $10, whatever, just to be part of this canopy forever,” Young says. 

In addition to the Rotary and community donations, Savannah Tree Foundation, along with volunteers, donated their services to dig holes for the first 30 trees planted on Feb. 19, and Water Georgia has donated a watering system (watering bags, rather than irrigation, offer the best approach, Rinker explains).

This project is no small feat. The 75-tree replanting goal will take place over the next couple of years. Young live oaks are around 12 feet, can weigh 100 pounds and need a lot of care. “We’re only doing 30 to start because young trees like that, especially when they get transplanted, need a lot of watering and need a lot of pampering to get them sorted into the new environment,” Rinker says. 

The Savannah Tree Foundation also has more in store than the Wormsloe Tree Replacement Project during its 40th year, with a goal of planting 500 trees in Chatham County from November to March (planting season), including some on FEMA lots that have flooded to mitigate stormwater damage. According to a study done by the foundation, the county lost an estimated 250 acres of forested land to industrial construction in 2020 alone, which is the equivalent of approximately 300 downtown squares. Savannah Tree Foundation seeks to do its part — at Wormsloe and throughout Chatham County — to offset this loss.

“I love that people are getting involved, but let’s talk about places beyond Wormsloe as well,” Rinker says. “Hopefully by getting exposed to planting a tree [at Wormsloe], people will be excited to plant trees across the county and continue our urban forest.”  

To donate to the Wormsloe Tree Replacement Project, mail your donation to The Rotary Club of Savannah, P.O. Box 11105, Savannah, GA 31412. To volunteer with the Savannah Tree Foundation, visit savannahtree.org.



1. Plant trees in cooler months. Coastal Georgia’s tree-planting season runs November through March. 

2. Plant native trees. They are well-adapted to our local climate and provide resources for wildlife. 

3. Plant the right tree in the right place. Make sure you consider how the fully grown tree will impact the space around it. 

4. Plant small. Younger, smaller trees are not only more affordable, but they also are more likely to adapt quickly to their new environment. 

5. Plant straight. It is hard to correct a poorly aligned trunk once the tree begins to grow. Use stakes if needed to secure the tree. 

6. Mulch your trees, whether young or old. Make sure you spread the mulch to the dripline of the tree, and don’t let it touch the trunk. When adding mulch, think of a “donut” shape instead of a “volcano” shape. 

7. Water newly planted trees weekly. In weeks where it does not rain at least 1 inch, water trees at a rate of 10 gallons per inch of trunk diameter. 

8. Avoid fertilizing young trees. Fertilizer is only recommended for mature trees struggling due to damage, pests or disease. Fruit trees are the one exception to this rule. 

9. Prune only when necessary. Each pruning cut is a wound to the tree. Avoid excessive pruning, which can inhibit nutrient intake and create future structural issues. 

10. When in doubt, call an arborist. Certified arborists have the proper training to assist you in all aspects of tree care. 

Find a list of local arborists on Savannah Tree Foundation’s website at savannahtree.org/downloads.