Urban and suburban trees dealing with limited space and environmental stresses may survive for only 15 years unless they receive special attention. In the Chicagoland area, that attention comes from the Openlands TreeKeepers, a corps of volunteers who care for public trees, keeping them healthy and administering proper care. Last fall, the group expanded its outreach to the suburbs, and will again call on prospective volunteers to participate in the TreeKeepers training course at The Morton Arboretum.

Each TreeKeeper commits to volunteering 24 hours during their first year to taking care of trees, working in collaboration with local park districts, forest preserves and forestry departments. Their responsibilities include planting and mulching trees, inventorying trees in parks, pruning and monitoring public trees and battling invasive species.

As the western suburbs face the devastation of the emerald ash borer, the suburban TreeKeepers could play a vital role in planting and maintaining the new trees that will take the place of the infested ash trees, according to Beth Corrigan, Community Trees program coordinator at The Morton Arboretum. “This volunteer workforce will be able to augment local forestry staffs at a time when many of our municipal foresters have been facing budget cuts and a reduction in staffing.”

TreeKeeper classes at The Morton Arboretum take place on Saturday mornings from March 8 to May 3. Trainees attend a series of eight three-hour classes, during which they will learn the biology of trees, how to identify tree species and how to monitor for insects and diseases, plus partake in hands-on demonstrations for tree pruning and care.

To graduate from the program, TreeKeepers will need to pass a written test as well as demonstrate their hands-on skills in tree planting, pruning and mulching. At graduation, the newly appointed TreeKeepers will meet with municipal foresters from their own hometowns to discuss how they can work together.

TreeKeepers fill a need in the western suburbs, says Megan Dunning, manager of community education and outreach at the Arboretum. “TreeKeepers help ensure that there will be trees in your neighborhood in the future, and that our communities have healthy urban forests.”

Registration is currently open at www.mortonarb.org/education. Participants 16 years old and under must be accompanied by an adult registrant. The course costs $128 for members and $150 for nonmembers. Need-based scholarships are available.