About Macon State
Oak Hall, one of three academic building comprising Macon State's Warner Robins Campus, takes its name from the grand live oak that graces its entrance. That almost wasn’t the case when construction of the two-story building began in 2008.
While walking the perimeter of the proposed building site, Plant Operations Director David Sims and campus Arborist Derrick Catlett noticed they could see the sky through the oak’s canopy, “and this was during the summer when the canopy should have been its thickest,” Catlett said. “That indicated a serious problem.”
In consultation with Bartlett Tree Experts, Catlett tackled the task of reviving the 45-foot-tall tree, which at an estimated 75 years old is not even middle age for a tree that can live 200+ years.
Fast forward to summer 2012, and Oak Hall’s namesake thrives with its lush 60-foot spread. “Derrick Catlett brought that tree back to life, plain and simple,” Sims said.
Catlett’s love of plants dates back to his years as a Boy Scout, then as a member of Future Farmers of America (FFA) at Perry High School . He gives a shout out to Dr. Argene Claxton, an FFA faculty advisor at Perry High where he has taught agriculture for 32 years.
“He’s been a great inspiration and mentor,” Catlett said of Claxton, who was inducted into the Georgia Agriculture Education Hall of Fame in 2006.
Catlett, a 2001 Perry High graduate, joined Macon State’s Plant Operations seven years ago. Since then, he has earned certification by the International Society of Arborists. He considers saving the Warner Robins Campus’ live oak to be one of his proudest achievements.
Nursing the tree back to health was no easy undertaking. “That tree was suffering from ‘die back,’ meaning it was dying from the top down,” Catlett explained. “Trees need air, and over the years, that tree wasn’t getting enough.”
Long before Macon State opened its Warner Robins Campus in 2003, the tree was a popular lunch spot for city and RAFB workers taking advantage of the oak’s shade. “We learned that people would park beneath the tree during their lunch breaks,” Catlett said.
Unfortunately, the parked cars and foot traffic contributed to the oak’s health issues as did overhead power lines (now underground) and heavy equipment parked in the immediate area during the construction of Oak Hall.
In February 2009, efforts to save the tree began with root invigoration, a process of using an air spade and fertilization techniques, along with lots of water, to introduce air back into the soil.
“We de-compacted the soil by tilling it with an air spade, basically an air compressor with a special gun,” Catlett said, “then we added amendments, meaning lots of manure, within the entire drop line, which runs from the tree trunk to the limit of the tree crown where the branches extend.”
The live oak responded quickly to all the TLC, according to Catlett. “By that summer, the lush green foliage had returned,” he said. “I wasn’t sure that oak could be saved. It’s been something to watch it bounce back and thrive. Now it’s back to about an 8-inch growth per season.”
Continued maintenance includes injecting slow-release fertilizer once a year combined with moisture management via a drip system to make sure it’s getting plenty of water, especially during the summer.
With one save under his belt, Catlett is now coordinating the root invigoration process to revive several of the 10 oaks on the Warner Robins Campus as well as some of the 50 live oaks on the Macon campus.
The oaks are among the 15,000 trees, shrubs and ground cover plants on Macon State College’s two campuses, which have been designated botanical gardens. The gardens are named in honor of Waddell Barnes, M.D., who served many years on the college foundation’s board of trustees and was the driving force behind turning the campuses into a unique horticultural resource.
The Waddell Barnes Botanical Gardens are comprised of many themed gardens, such as Southern Traditional, Fruit Trees, Showy Flowers, Fragrant and Fall Colors. To learn more about the gardens, visit www.maconstate.edu/botanical/. The site includes an interactive map created by Catlett.