Plant a tree, save the planet: Tips for success

Plant a tree, save the planet: Tips for success

by Ellen Goff

There's something about the simple act of establishing a new tree that taps into the spiritual and often complex relationship between humans and trees. And, since the original Earth Day celebration more than 40 years ago, it's been the symbol for healing our ailing environment.

Tree planting is seen as a small scale solution that one person can offer to improve the community and curb the effects of global warming, pollution and stress from urban living. These are tangible benefits that can be quantified in cost savings to the community and enhanced property values.

To see how, check out the National Tree Benefit Calculator ( Based on your location plus the size, age and species of tree, the calculator estimates the dollar value and impact of the tree in terms of its effect on storm water, electricity, air quality, property value, natural gas and carbon dioxide.

Tree planting may seem simple enough, but without attention to key details, it can fail completely. In order to achieve success, keep these considerations in mind:

Select the right tree for the aspect, soil and sunlight characteristics of the location. Which tree species to plant makes a difference when you consider its adaptability to urban stresses, whether it will be in a streetscape, a park or residential setting, and your expectations of the tree's longevity and ecological value.

If you care about supporting insect biodiversity to sustain wildlife and enhance your garden, plant a tree species that produces the most insects. Douglas Tallamy of the University of Delaware puts the oak at the top of his list, followed by willow, cherry, birch, poplar, crabapple, maple, elm, pine and hickory rounding out the top 10 choices.

Consult local tree sources for the best species for your climate.

A tree project needs a timeline that includes a maintenance schedule throughout the first year after planting. A well-selected tree planted correctly and covered with several inches of mulch should require low maintenance after it becomes established, which is at a minimum one full year, depending on the size.

The tree needs to be watered regularly and thoroughly at least once or twice a week to establish a strong root system. This is where tree-planting projects fail most often. Plan on organizing a group of people who will take turns watering when the project is in neighborhoods or public areas.

Replanting areas where trees once stood - from the missing street trees in your hometown to the war-torn urban forests of Sarajevo to the stripped mountainsides of Haiti - has a real and profound effect on the surrounding environment and on the people living there.

Global Releaf, a campaign of American Forests, has set a goal of planting 100 million trees by 2020. By the end of 2010, the not-for-profit organization will have planted 30 million trees in more than 600 projects across the United States and in 21 other countries.

Planting that many trees has got to make a difference, right? It's hard to really know - but it's a start, an investment for our future and our planet.

Ellen Goff is a freelance horticulture writer and photographer. She's passionate about plants, water quality and protecting the environment. Aside from working with words and pictures, she stays busy with her home landscape and its inhabitants along the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.


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