Autumn is an optimal time to plant trees. As mundane as it may seem compared to solar panels and hybrid cars, planting trees is one of the most powerful and affordable ways to make a personal difference for the environment. And it’s a fun and educational activity to do with kids, too. Here’s why…
Why We Should Plant More Trees
As we learned in third grade biology, trees are essential to life. They create the very air we breathe and filter air pollution.
What you may not know is that trees also build soil and help soak up stormwater before it can create a flood, and they offer energy-saving shade that reduces global warming and creates habitat for thousands of different species. Trees also help to reduce ozone levels in urban areas.
Most importantly, trees sequester carbon, helping to remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the air, which cools the earth. In fact, a mature canopy tree absorbs enough carbon and releases enough oxygen to sustain two human beings!
The carbon storage capacity of forests is approximately three times as large as the pool of carbon in the atmosphere. If forests are changed, reduced, or eliminated, the captured carbon goes into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2).
Despite their importance to life as we know it, humans have cut down half of all the trees on the planet so far. Every year we cut down over 50,000 square miles of forest worldwide for paper, agriculture, building materials and fuel. That’s an area the size of the state of Alabama! Every year!
The carbon release from deforestation accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the four to five billion tons of carbon accumulating every year in the atmosphere from human activities.
Much of this wouldn’t be necessary if we reduced, reused and recycled more, cultivated hemp for fuel and fiber, and used sustainable and recycled materials in all our buildings. But until this changes, we need to put the trees back any way we can, as fast as we can!
Have a Tree Planted for You
You can also have trees planted specifically to offset your personal carbon emissions from airplane or car travel. These organizations can help you out:
- American Forests Global ReLeaf
- The International Tree Foundation
- Rainforest Rescue – Restores rainforest species in Australia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia
- Clear Sky Climate Solutions – Provides carbon offsets through reforestation projects
- Terrapass – Provides carbon offsets for flying, driving, etc.
- CarbonFund – Provides a variety of carbon offset projects to choose from.
- Carbonify.com – Tree planting for offsetting carbon emissions
Also check with your local environmental or parks department for tree planting organizations and events in your community.
Plant a Tree to Improve Your Property
While supporting tree planting organizations is a great way to be eco-friendly, you can also make a difference in your community by planting trees on your own property.
A properly-planted, mature shade tree on the south or west side of your house or business can save you up to 25% on your summer air conditioning bills and increase your property value by up to 20% with its beauty. That same tree will also help soak up stormwater in the neighborhood, and contribute habitat for local wildlife. If you plant a fruit or nut tree, you get food as an added bonus!
You really can’t go wrong by planting trees!
How to Properly Plant a Tree
September through November is the ideal time for planting trees, shrubs and perennials (in the Northern hemisphere) because it allows the roots to become established before the ground freezes and winter sets in. Trees and shrubs planted in the fall are also better equipped to deal with heat, pests and drought the following season.
Another great reason to plant your trees and shrubs in the fall is so you can select them by the fall colors they produce.
Cooler, wetter weather is the perfect time for tree planting, and seasonal rains can often provide all the water the tree needs to establish. However, if the weather is dry you should make sure your shade trees get about 15-20 gallons of water a week, until they go dormant for winter.
Fruit trees and ornamental trees and shrubs can receive a little less. It is very easy to make sure your tree gets the water it needs automatically using a TreeGator device.
Avoid planting broad leaved evergreens like rhododendrons, azaleas, boxwoods and hollies in the fall, because they are not likely to survive winter cold and wind so soon after planting. However, virtually all other temperate shade trees, ornamental/fruit trees, and perennials are perfect for planting in the fall, before the soil gets too cold too dig.
The Arbor Day Foundation has a great video series on how to properly plant a tree. Learn how to plant a tree »
Essential Tree Planting Tips
Here are a few key tips for proper tree planting that you may not know:
1. A healthy tree’s root system is just as wide as its canopy, so be sure to plant your tree in a location far enough from your house to accommodate both the mature breadth of the tree branches and the mature spread of the tree roots.
Especially consider where your water and sewer pipes are in your yard in relation to your tree’s future root spread. It would be awfully expensive and tragic to have to cut down a 30-foot tall, mature shade tree because its roots were breaking up your plumbing.
2. Make sure your tree is planted at the exact same depth as it was planted in the pot or burlap sack it came in. Planting a tree too deep is a leading cause of tree death because it smothers the roots and introduces moisture and fungus to the trunk.
Planting a tree too shallow will expose too much of the top of the root system to the elements. If you have to move the tree to place more soil beneath it or take some away to get the tree to sit at the right depth during planting, it is worth the work. A tree can last for generations if you plant it right.
3. Never pile mulch around the trunk of your tree! I know people do this all the time everywhere you go, but it is a very harmful practice for the tree and shortens its lifespan greatly. While you should always mulch your trees, piling up the mulch around the trunk like a volcano introduces wood-rotting bacteria and fungus from the mulch directly to the living, growing bark of the tree. The moisture build-up and fungus will often girdle or kill the tree before it can reach maturity.
The proper way to place mulch around a tree is in a “doughnut” shape that doesn’t allow the rotting mulch to come into contact with the living bark. (See image above.)
4. Don’t use stakes unless absolutely necessary. If the tree is grown and dug properly at the nursery, staking for support will be unnecessary. Trees establish more quickly and develop stronger trunk and root systems if they are not staked at the time of planting, but instead are allowed to adapt to local conditions. However, protective staking may be necessary where lawn mower damage, vandalism, or windy conditions are concerns.
This fall, consider planting a tree or two on your property, or help with a tree planting in your community. And this holiday season, consider a generous donation to a non-profit that plants trees or does reforestation work.
We all benefit greatly from living among more trees. A future with fewer trees is a future less secure for humans.
This article was excerpted from my book Sustainability Starts at Home – How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. For more money-saving, planet-friendly tips, check out the book by clicking below.
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