Where Would We Be Without the Trees?
AUG. 06, 2021
If you’re lucky, you may be reading this as you sit beneath a leafy oak or maple tree, sun filtering through the leaves, a gentle breeze moving the summer air. You’re breathing a bit easier thanks to that tree overhead. In fact, that tree overhead produces approximately 260 pounds of oxygen each year. You need, on average, the annual output of 3 mature trees working to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen to meet your body’s requirements. How many trees can you see from your vantage point right now? Perhaps a nod and a smile their way is in order?
Better yet, why not plant a tree or two in your garden and make your own contribution to carbon sequestration and oxygenation? In addition to these two important accomplishments by our leafy neighbors, there are lots of benefits to having trees as part of your landscape design. Trees are beautiful—as if I needed to tell you. If you’re reading this article, you already know the beauty that nature provides. And those fluttering leaves, the songbirds that nest in the trees, and the whispering breezes that move through the branches help to lower your stress levels. Trees, whether ornamental, fruit, or shade, increase the value of your property. When they mature, they help cool your house in the summer and protect your home from winter winds, thus lowering heating and cooling costs. The network of roots that feed a tree provide an important network of protection for the soil, encouraging aeration while providing a soil safety net to keep heavy rains from washing away the precious topsoil. Oh, and one more thing; trees are safe havens for nesting birds and squirrels, with ready supplies of nuts and berries to feed your garden’s feathered and furry friends.
The Big Commitment
Which brings us to the big question: Is there space in your garden for one – or one more tree? If the answer is “yes,” now’s the time to start planning. Fall—October to early November in our region—is the best time to plant trees. There’s usually a moderate amount of rainfall, temperatures are mild, and the sapling you plant is ready to go dormant until spring, lessening the chance it will be shocked by the move/planting.
Which Type is for You?
Choosing a variety of tree to plant may depend on several factors. The most common choices are based on:
- Purpose – privacy, decoration, encouragement of wildlife, shade
- Shade tree – deciduous (sheds its leaves in autumn)
- Ornamental tree – often conifers (evergreens) but also some with exotic growth or leaf patterns
- Fruit tree – apple, peach, and pear are common (Caution: fruit trees require year-long attention if you want to enjoy their fruits in season.)
- Size – large, slender, dwarf
- the colors of the tree’s display during spring and/or fall
- the shape of the leaves or the shape of the tree’s crown (the form the tree grows into naturally, often a semi-circle or cone shape
- fragrance, scented blossoms or even fragrant leaves
- bark and trunk appearance, rough and variegated or smooth and uniform
- Fast or slow growing
- Well-mannered, requiring little or no pruning vs. distinctive and sometimes surprising growth of trunk and/or branches
- Shallow or deep root system
- Proximity to buildings; placing the tree far enough from the structure to avoid roots or branches interfering with the house or garage’s structure
- Clay or loamy soil
- Damp or dry conditions
- Sunny or shady location
- Crowded or vacant location; amidst other trees, shrubs, and plants or situated alone
All of these issues demand research or an arborist’s knowledge. If you’re ready to commit to adopting a new resident to your yard or garden, this may be the time to consult your gardener, garden designer, or arborist. After considering the issues I introduce here, you can come to the conversation with your landscape specialist armed with some ideas and questions that may help you choose a tree or trees that will be happy in your location and will make you happy with their inclusion in your landscaping.
We’re fortunate to live in a fairly moderate climate, and so we have lots of varieties of trees that will flourish here and provide just the qualities you’re looking for. You probably have your favorites among the grand dames of our urban and rural forests and gardens. I’d like to just tell you about a few less-familiar varieties that you may want to look into. It’s fun to pique your fellow-gardeners’ curiosity as your tree begins to develop its unique characteristics.
Amur Maple: Like its big sisters the Silver and Sugar Maples, this small tree offers stunning color in the autumn. It’s relatively pest resistant. Its one drawback is that it easily propagates, so keep your eye out for unwanted “volunteers” and pluck them out. (Perhaps replant the volunteers in pots to grow until they’re big enough to give as gifts to friends.)
Paper-Bark Maple: Mid-size and reasonably fast growing, what makes this maple a treasure is its beautiful, papery bark. As the tree grows, the lighter color outer-bark begins to peel back revealing the deep cinnamon to brown bark beneath. Add to this year-round interest, she’ll display her leaves in deep reds in the autumn.
Weeping Flowering Pear: This beauty has slender, willowy leaves, silver in color. The branches of this fairly small tree droop gracefully. In the spring there’ll be a lovely display of white blossoms. If pollinated, she’ll produce small pears that are tasty only to squirrels, foxes, and other furry guests. One final reason to add a Weeping Flowering Pear to your garden is that the tree is an endangered species, having originated as a cultivar in Germany in the mid-19th century, it’s no longer commonplace.
Leyland Cypress: This slender evergreen makes a subtle privacy barrier. It’s fast-growing and undemanding. In three years it can grow 50 to 60 feet tall. (No need to avert your eyes from the back of your neighbor’s garage any longer.)
Your arborist or garden consultant also will have lots of lovely suggestions, I’m sure. My goal here is to plant the seed, or seedling, and suggest one way we can each make a tiny improvement in our environment. If every garden had a tree, think how many tons of oxygen we’d add to the atmosphere. It seems such a simple way to help Mother Earth.