Houston Parks Scramble to Save Trees

As the drought continues — city of Houston trees are suffering. Officials estimate about 9,000 trees are dead in city parks.

Record temperatures, water shortages and wildfires are making this one of the worst drought seasons Texas has ever experienced.

And the trees are dying in record numbers.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker says the city has never had to respond to this situation before.

“We’re a city that normally experiences a great deal of rain. Most of our parks do not have watering systems. We don’t routinely water trees in the public domain. We had to secure water trucks. We had to set up a watering protocol, had to get the people to drive the trucks.”

In fact, the Parks Department only owns four water trucks. They’ve rented, borrowed or modified 17 more to respond to the drought.

There are also only four people on staff who are qualified to inspect trees and determine whether they are dead.

“We haven’t gone through this before. We know now that a brown pine tree is a dead pine tree. And we need to move those out as quickly as we can, but a lot of these other trees that have dropped their leaves will be able to leaf out again if and when we get rain. And so we’re having to evaluate carefully what to do and we are watering as aggressively as we can.”

Parker says the city is focusing on signature trees such as the ones along Main Street and in Hermann Park.

“When the Allen brothers founded the City of Houston, we were a pothole coastal prairie. We didn’t have these huge trees. These trees have been planted and nurtured by Houstonians for decades and it has really changed the physical landscape of the city.”

More than 1,000 dead trees have already been removed from city parks this summer and thousands more are at risk.


Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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