Arborist Taylor Sapudar: Taking Care of Princeton’s Trees
TREE MAN’S HOLIDAY: Princeton Arborist Taylor Sapudar admires an eastern redbud while on vacation in London. Sapudar, who has been on the job in Princeton for just 14 months, has been in love with the outdoors ever since growing up in the Groveville section of Hamilton, near the woods that border Crosswicks Creek. (Photo courtesy of Taylor Sapudar)
By Donald Gilpin
As it develops its Climate Action Plan, the town is asking, “What can Princeton do to protect our natural environment?” One man with an answer to that question is Municipal Arborist Taylor Sapudar. His answer is “trees.”
In little more than a year since he was hired, Sapudar and his crew of six have planted more than 220 trees, with another 200 planned for the coming year. In a speech last week at a Sustainable Princeton forum at the Princeton Public Library, he noted the many ways in which trees can fight climate change and enhance the environment.
Sapudar pointed out that trees provide oxygen and clean air; can reduce asphalt temperature by nearly 36 degrees; can each absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year; reduce storm water runoff; reduce A/C costs by nearly 30 percent; improve health and reduce stress levels and community violence; increase property values nearly 15 percent; and create an area that encourages people to shop more and spend more.
Childhood, Work and Play
Sapudar grew up in the Groveville section of Hamilton, near the woods that border the Crosswicks Creek. “So as a kid I didn’t play video games,” he said. “I was involved in sports, but my summers were spent building tree houses in the woods, hiking, swimming in the creek. I guess I fell in love with being outside.”
As a 12-year-old, Sapudar took on a job delivering newspapers in his community. “I put out fliers with the papers, advertising to cut your grass, pull your weeds, trim your shrubs, or plant new flowers,” he explained. “Half the neighborhood called me to do work around the house, and from age 12 through high school, that’s what I was doing to make extra money for college. I liked making something that didn’t look so good, look good again.”
Sapudar and his father worked together on the family’s yard. “My dad wanted an ornamental yard, so we always did the landscaping together,” he said. “It was something that we did as a team together.”
Knowing that he wanted to be involved in the residential landscape design industry, when it came time for college Sapudar enrolled in the horticulture program at Mercer County Community College. He received his associates degree in ornamental horticulture, worked with a landscape design company in the summers, and moved on to Rutgers University, where he earned a degree in environmental planning and plant science.
After graduation from Rutgers, Sapudar took a job with the local tree company Savatree, where he learned more about the sciences and plant health care and observed the challenges, insects, and diseases faced by trees in the Princeton area.
After three years with that company, Sapudar realized that his interests went beyond residential sales and tree care. “Working for that company was extremely beneficial,” he said. “I was able to learn from arborists who had been working in this area for 20-30 years, but the actual business end of that industry was not for me.”
Sapudar moved on to an engineering firm that worked for the New York City Parks Department, supervising landscape construction in the five boroughs of the city. His firm participated in the DeBlasio-Bloomberg Million Trees campaign, which planted a million trees in NYC over a 10-year period to combat climate change.
In his three and a half years there, Sapudar was involved in the planting of about 4,000 trees, and he was in attendance when the DeBlasio-Bloomberg initiative planted the millionth tree in a park in Brooklyn.
Sapudar described the NYC experience as an “inspiring” introduction to urban tree planting and urban forestry. “The NYC Parks Department is possibly the largest in the world,” he said, “and it was an eye-opening experience to learn from their team of professionals. Growing up in Hamilton, they just didn’t have programs where they planted street trees on a regular basis.”
But Sapudar knew he didn’t want to continue the pre-dawn commute into New York forever, and when he went to an Atlantic City tree conference in March of 2018 and heard about the opening for an arborist in Princeton, he wasted no time in applying. Less than two months later he started work as Princeton Arborist.
Sapudar and the Princeton Shade Tree Commission (STC) are currently in the process of updating the tree inventory, with about 25,000 trees in the municipal right-of-way, lining the streets, not including trees in open space areas.
“There are about 50,000 trees in town that could potentially cause an issue,” Sapudar said. “If a neighbor is concerned about a tree in the right-of-way in front of his house I would have to assess that tree and maybe either prune it or have the tree crew remove it.”
Sapudar writes the work orders and makes weekly plans for his tree crew, then inspects the work when they’re done. He also works with the town engineering department to maintain healthy trees on development property and to make sure contractors are doing necessary tree protection and replacing trees where needed.
Sapudar often works with the PSE&G forestry department because many of Princeton’s trees border utility lines. In addition to taking care of the trees, part of Sapudar’s job is protecting and keeping the right-of-way safe, removing a tree if it presents a serious hazard.
EAB and BLS
The two biggest threats to the town’s trees, Sapudar pointed out, are the emerald ash borer (EAB), a tiny insect that has killed more than 40 million ash trees throughout the United States since it arrived in 2002, and bacterial leaf scorch (BLS), a chronic, fatal disease which invades the xylem (water and nutrient conducting tissues) of susceptible trees.
If still in the early stages of decline, these trees can be treated, “but they will ultimately succumb,” Sapudar noted. Princeton Council has budgeted for a mass removal of public ash trees, and Sapudar advises tree owners, “You can prune it and hope that an injection of insecticide will save the tree for a bit longer, but if it has lost more than 30 percent of its canopy, you just need to take it down. It’s more challenging to take it down when the tree is dead.”
With BLS, red oaks and pin oaks are especially susceptible, and the disease can be fast-moving or slow-moving, killing the tree in 3 to 8 years. “There’s no cure for the disease,” Sapudar said. “You can prolong the tree’s life, but there’s nothing you can do to cure it.”
Sapudar emphasized the importance of species diversity, with towns advised to plant no more than 10 percent of any one species, 20 percent of any one genus, or 30 percent of any one family, in case another devastating insect or disease arises. Ash trees used to be thought to be the ideal town tree, and three Princeton neighborhoods were planted with only ash trees on the street. Those trees are now gone or in the process of removal and the town is working on replanting.
“In Good Hands”
“I’m bringing what I learned with the New York City forestry department, trying to bring their policies to Princeton to keep replanting,” Sapudar said. “We’re replanting at a record pace. We have a generous budget when it comes to green infrastructure, and we plant much more than other towns that I’m familiar with in the area.”
Praising his colleagues in the STC and the Princeton tree crew, Sapudar added, “The trees here are in very good hands. A devoted Shade Tree Commission always keep their eye out. They put in a lot of long volunteer hours. We work very well together. We’re also in very good hands with the municipal tree crew.”
As a final word of advice to Princeton tree owners, Sapudar noted, “Trees are beautiful, but they can become a liability. It’s important to maintain your trees. A licensed arborist should do a walk-through once every two years at minimum to take a look and let you know what’s happening. You need to budget your trees as a household expense every year. If they’re not maintained, that’s when diseases, insects, and structural damage will occur.”
He added, “The companies that are registered in town are very fair. They’ll be fair and honest with you.”
Sapudar lives in Allentown, New Jersey, with his wife, and when he’s not working with the trees of Princeton, he can probably be found at home, either in the garden or in a small woodshop he built behind his house. “I’m an avid woodworker,” he said. “I make high-top tables for bars, cutting boards, wedding card boxes.” He also serves on the Allentown STC.
Sapudar’s favorite plant in his garden is a summer sweet pepper bush, a clethera, near his patio. Unfortunately, he says, the one tree on his property is an ash tree.