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Drought takes a toll on oaks planted at mall entranceway

The entire blame, however, cannot be placed on Mother Nature. County officials say they don't have enough watering trucks or employees to drive them.

A long row of dying oaks leads the way to Citrus Park Town Center _ a far cry from the greenery envisioned when the county planted the trees down the middle of Sheldon Road two years ago.

"It's just terrible," said Bob Der a Hillsborough County forester. But "if they can just hang on another month to rainy season they'll come back."

The trees along about 2 miles of Sheldon are some of hundreds planted on 67 miles of median dying for lack of water, said David Fountain, of the county's parks and recreation department, which is responsible for maintaining the plantings.

Ironically, lack of water is not the problem because the county uses reclaimed water to irrigate median plantings. What is in short supply, however, are watering trucks and employees to drive them.

"We're trying to borrow trucks from other departments," Fountain said this week.

The county's recreation department has two watering trucks, one that carries 4,000 gallons, the other 1,500 gallons, Fountain said.

"We make about four to five deliveries a day," said Fountain, who expected to have the use of additional trucks by today or next week.

County officials couldn't provide estimated cost of the oaks along Sheldon Road. Gunn Highway Nursery owner Jim McKay said the young trees probably cost about $85 each, wholesale.

"Everywhere you go you see it, it's a shame," McKay said. "It's a shame, too, for the taxpayers."

McKay, who said even plants native to Florida are dying from the drought, had little hope for the oaks.

"They're already dead," McKay said. "If they have brown leaves hanging on the branches, they're dead."

Fountain, though, said, "As long as some green is showing, we do have a chance."

"I've had experience with oak trees," Fountain said. "I've seen them come back after being under that kind of stress."

_ Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 226-3468 or