April 23, 2014
Trees, you guys, trees are awesome. Earth Day may get a lot of press because it’s the “sexy” environmental holiday, but Arbor Day isn’t just for gardening grandmothers. Like bears, trees can lie dormant for most of the winter, but unlike bears, they won’t want to eat you when they wake up. Just three days after Earth Day, Arbor Day honors our lanky limbed friends who don’t shrivel and die at the first nip of frost.
Trees have substantial societal and monetary value. Planting a tree near your home or office can increase your property value, reduce your energy bill, strain local storm water and cache clean groundwater, suck carbon from the atmosphere and improve your air quality. Quantify the benefits of future trees or ones you already have with this benefits calculator. What would Earth Day be without the trees?
Now that you’re sold on planting a tree, how do you choose? Generally, the EPA suggests avoiding trees that are “hard to establish,” “susceptible to disease” and/or “need frequent attention.” When in doubt Master Arborist, Josh Morin recommends, “Go native and diversify.” Native species will be better adapted to the climate and require less maintenance and water. It’s also important to plant a wide variety of trees to avoid contagion among monocultures. To all of you sharpening your earth-moving tools, here’s a list of trees to plant that may do well in your region.
Pink Dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’): This tree loves sinking its roots into moist earth. It will stand out amongst the evergreens in your backyard with its brilliant pink flowers. Year-round fruit production makes this tree a popular karaoke bar for songbirds.
Concolor Fir (Abies concolor): Also known as the “White Fir” this is beautiful evergreen’s silvery needles and whitish bark make it the ideal holiday tree. It’s also drought resistant and native to the western slope of the Rockies. Forget about the hassle of permits and postholing in your National Forest and grow your Christmas tree in the backyard!
Thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis): This drought-resistant tree produces delicious smelling flowers, can tolerate all types of soil and loves basking in the sun. Bees can also feast on flowering honeylocusts, so if your bee-farm hasn’t quite taken off, planting one of these will be like building an In-N-Out Burger in your yard.
Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica): The ash is a tough, fast-growing tree that can withstand just about any climate the Midwest dishes out. However, it’s currently suffering from an outbreak of emerald ash borers and ash trees are dropping like leaves in October. Be a part of the solution and plant ash in your community!
Red Maple (Acer rubrum): Rhode Island has already claimed this beauty as its state tree, but that doesn’t mean the rest of you can’t enjoy the year-round color show. It will flourish in humid Northeastern summers and offer bright pops of red during long winter months.
American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua): You could be sipping sweet-tea underneath your sweetgum in a few summers if you plant this beautiful shade tree. The sweetgum turns striking shades of red and yellow in the fall and is very popular among finches, doves, sparrows and turkeys.
Before you plant, it’s a good idea to call a certified arborist in your area and get all the information you need regarding placement, maintenance and species. They’re like a veterinarian for your tree, on call and immensely knowledgeable about your pet.
If you belong to the yardless masses, worry not. You too can get involved in Arbor Day. Engage in a little “Urban Forestry,” recommends Rick Tagtow, Executive Director of the Midwestern International Society of Arborists (ISA). Schools, public parks, golf courses and streets all benefit from tree-planting. Contact local community groups like Rotary clubs, 4H, or the Parks Department to join in a team effort. What better way to channel your cabin fever than fervent digging and shoveling? It’s also a great way to learn about your local ecosystem and get outside with friends and family. New members of the Arbor Day Foundation can receive 10 free trees or choose to have 10 trees planted in our National Forests.
-- Images from istock photo contributors (top to bottom) dianne555, don51, 3pix, Zandebasenjis, sakakawea7, Hailshadow, and maljalen.
Caitlin Kauffman is an editorial intern for Sierra. She is a sea kayak and hiking guide in the Bay Area and the Greater Yellowstone area. She enjoys good eye contact and elk burgers.