Taking the baton from Mike Mather’s beautiful article about making the decision to give back to the community by planting trees, I want to focus a little more on why that makes a difference. I am usually giving advice for a client’s front or back yard in the city that does not have a lot of room for big trees. I’m normally banking on my go-to suggestions of either a redbud or dogwood, two of my favorite trees. Although they contribute to the native landscape and local ecology of Richmond, Virginia, they add just a mere fraction of the potential of a mature shade tree.
Large native shade trees add an immeasurable amount of benefits to nature. Older trees collect carbon and pollution in the air at a much greater rate than younger trees, and the bigger they are, the more they can do. Their canopies support the native wildlife, while their extensive root systems can absorb more water to decrease stormwater runoff, and slow erosion. As we contemplate the planet and our responsibility to preserve nature for the benefit of all living plants and creatures, we ought to think about our own space as part of the bigger picture. This quote from Doug Tallamy really strikes a chord with me:
It sounds pretty radical in theory, including our yards as part of nature – but we certainly all love to watch the birds at our feeders, the butterflies on our flowers, and the occasional furry visitor. So we need to do our part to support them.
A simple way to plan for a better tomorrow is by planting trees today that will support our environment in the future. Your local nursery should carry a wide range of shade trees, like maples and oaks, and also offer suggestions for where and when to plant them. Large trees will need a lot of space to grow up and out, so make sure you consider the potential interference with all your structures, walkways, power lines, and amenities nearby. A mature white oak can get 100 ft tall and 60 ft wide, but certainly not within our lifetime. If you are going to plant one by your home, it’s best to plant on the southwest corner of the house to allow for the morning sun, but remain cool during the hot afternoon heat.
Lastly, let’s consider keeping our current large shade trees. They can not only keep your energy bill down, but they also add to the curb appeal of your house, increasing the potential price up to 10% or more. That’s a good investment to keep in mind when weighing the pros and cons of taking down your mature shade trees. They provide shade, a place for kids to play, or a place to picnic or relax out of the heat of the sun, sometimes up to 6 degrees cooler. If you just bought a house and you are unsure of the health of the trees close to your home, call an arborist to get some peace of mind about the structure and integrity of the trees and have a plan for pruning intervals if needed.