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The Expert


Mark White, 44, Branch Chief of Grounds and Trees for the National Mall & Memorial Parks

Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page M03

THE FAMILY TREE. My dad's been in the tree business for 45 years; my uncle has a tree business; my brother has a tree business. So when my dad offered me a job after high school, it seemed like the logical choice. I worked for him for a few years to learn everything possible from a real pro. Later, I got a job with Asplundh Tree Expert Co., which works closely with Pepco to trim trees around power lines. Then in 1984, I came to the National Park Service.

READING THE LEAVES. The cherry trees are on schedule to be at peak bloom from tomorrow through Saturday; at that point, 70 percent of the flowers should have opened. Everything really depends on Mother Nature, though. But regional horticulturalist Robert DeFeo has been fairly accurate in his forecasts over the past several years, so my money is riding with him.

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KEEPIN' IT GREEN. We don't have to water the trees if there's been adequate rainfall. If the level goes below the threshold of drought, we break out the irrigation system. It's two miles of pipe and really a production to set up, so we only do it when absolutely necessary.

PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1. Surprisingly, the cicadas didn't bother the cherry blossoms. The weather, particularly frost, and the eastern caterpillar can be threats. But people and vandalism have proven to be an even bigger problem. Even though they're not supposed to, a lot of people pick the blossoms or let their dogs go near the trees. We also have to watch for signs of disease. We're always checking the leaves, the trunk and even the ground around the tree for signs of illness. For instance, a yellow discoloration on the leaves likely indicates an iron deficiency, so we'll inject iron into the soil to boost its levels. We often work with a pathologist when a tree is sick to determine the cause and treat it accordingly.

HOT SPOT. I think the best vantage point to see the blossoms is the Jefferson Memorial plaza, overlooking the entire Tidal Basin area. In the early morning with the rising sun and fewer crowds, it's truly spectacular. I've also heard that the evening lantern tours are nice. I've been working for the National Park Service for 21 years, and that's something that I've never experienced. Maybe before I retire, I'll get the chance to go on one. As told to Karen Hart

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