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Parks commissioner helps Astoria toddlers get green thumbs

City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe visited an Astoria day care center last week to encourage not only the children to water public trees in the summer but also the whole city.

“We’re trying to get everybody engaged in taking care of trees,” Benepe said.

About 40 youngsters from Diki Day Care, at 30-81 Steinway St., watered a street tree slightly north of their day care with their teachers, Benepe and City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria). Benepe said the event was one of many across the city designed to encourage residents to volunteer to water trees on the street, or become formal stewards of one of the city’s trees.

The steward program is part of MillionTreesNYC, a partnership between the Parks Department and actor/singer Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project started in 2007 that aims to plant 1 million additional trees across the city by 2017.

“We’ve had a hot, dry summer,” Benepe said. “We haven’t had a regular amount of rainfall.”

Katherine Stavrinos, director at the day care, said Diki recently became the steward of two trees north of the center. The children watered one tree and the adults watered the other during Benepe’s visit. Stavrinos, who lives in the Bayside/Fresh Meadows area, said she was grateful to the program for replanting trees where she lives after the 2010 tornadoes took down many of the trees in her neighborhood.

She said she wanted to get the youngsters involved in the day care’s responsibility for taking care of the trees.

“It’s a great thing for the kids,” Stavrinos said. “It’s one thing talking about it. It’s another thing actually doing it.”

Vallone also said it was good to get the children involved in taking care of trees and said he knew from his own experience that a tree needs to be watered a lot when it’s young.

“If we don’t water them, it’s going to be more like 1,000 trees,” Vallone said.

Queens has the largest number of street trees of any of the five boroughs, Benepe said, and on Steinway these street trees are plentiful. He said this is due to the efforts of the Steinway Street Business Improvement District.

Marie Torniali, executive director of the Steinway BID, said the organization received 50 trees through the MillionTreesNYC initiative and the group has been paying a maintenance worker to take care of the trees every week.

“We give us a lot of credit´╗┐ for taking this on because — let’s face it — it adds to the beauty of the street,” Torniali said.

Benepe said new trees need 20 to 30 gallons of water a week. He said this can be accomplished through a slow hose or by taking a garbage can filled with water and poking holes in the bottom so the water slowly seeps out.

For more information or to become a tree steward, visit milliontrees.org.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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