“A man was traveling through the desert, hungry, thirsty and tired, when he came upon a tree bearing luscious fruit and affording plenty of shade, under which ran a spring of water. He ate of the fruit, drank of the water, and rested beneath the shade. When he was about to leave, he turned to the tree and said: “Tree, O tree, with what should I bless you? Should I bless you that your fruit be sweet? Your fruit is already sweet. Should I bless you that your shade be plentiful? Your shade is plentiful. That a spring of water should run beneath you? A spring of water runs beneath you. There is one thing with which I can bless you: May it be G‑d’s will that all the trees planted from your seeds should be like you….” Talmud Taanit 5b (translation: Chabad.org)
Baltimore is blessed with neighborhoods laden with beautiful trees. I get true joy when I drive or walk through these areas of serene beauty. Sadly, I also see many piles of logs from trees that have been cut down. In fact, tree removal has been occurring at an alarming rate in our community, and very few new trees are being planted to take their place.
As a concerned member of our community, my desire is to beautify our neighborhoods, so that families can stroll along delightful, tree-canopied streets. I also want to inform our community about the contribution trees make to our health and wellbeing. Among their many benefits, trees cool the surrounding area, clean the air from pollution, and break the cold winds in the winter. A small investment in a tree can bring your family years of satisfaction. And as your family grows, the tree will grow with you.
Why Plant Trees?
In its “Reforesting the Earth” paper, the Worldwatch Institute estimated that our planet needs at least 321 million acres planted with trees just to restore and maintain the productivity of soil and water resources. This number of trees also removes from the atmosphere roughly 780 million tons of carbon annually, representing about 25 percent of the 2.9 billion tons of carbon that humans are currently pumping into it.
The website Treepeople.org lists several ways that trees benefit us:
Trees clean the air: Trees significantly help prevent respiratory ailments and other illnesses, especially among children and the elderly. In one year, an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people.
Trees cool the streets and the city: Average temperatures have risen 6° F. in the last 50 years as tree coverage has declined and the number of heat-absorbing roads and buildings has increased. Trees cool the city by up to 10° F. by shading our homes and streets, breaking up urban “heat islands” and releasing water vapor into the air through their leaves.
Trees conserve energy: Three trees placed strategically around a single-family home can cut summer air conditioning needs by up to 50 percent. By reducing the energy demand for cooling our houses, we reduce carbon dioxide and other pollution emissions from power plants. Trees cleanse and cool the air as well as help recharge ground water and sustain stream flow.
Trees heal: Studies have shown that patients with views of trees out their windows heal faster and with fewer complications. Children with ADHD show fewer symptoms when they have access to nature. Exposure to trees and nature aids concentration by reducing mental fatigue. Research indicates that trees help reduce stress in the workplace.
Trees beautify our community: Trees soften harsh the outlines of buildings and provide a lush green look that’s attractive and calming. Properly placed screens of trees and shrubs hide unsightly views and significantly decrease noise pollution near busy streets and intersections. Trees also add value to your home. Well-planned landscaping, along with its surrounding neighborhood, can raise property values by as much as 15 percent.
Trees attract songbirds and provide brilliant color in fall: What a joy to wake up in the morning to the lovely sounds of songbirds and to view the brilliant autumn reds and golds! And after the leaves drop to the ground, they provide excellent mulch for flowerbeds and gardens as well as exercise for people.
Choosing a Tree
Okay, suppose you are convinced and decide that a beautiful tree is just what your front yard needs. And you’ve heard that November is a good month to plant. But how do you start? Which tree do you choose among the scores of varieties available? Should it be a tall tree or a small one? Evergreen or deciduous? A tree that displays gorgeous blossoms in the spring or vivid foliage in the fall? A tree for privacy or for shade? Or perhaps a tree that grows fruits or nuts? How much will the tree cost? And finally, how in the world do you plant it so that it will live beyond its first birthday?
A most helpful website is treebaltimore.org, a part of the Baltimore City government. It has a wealth of information and resources for prospective planters. For instance, did you know that the City actually gives trees away? Their Free Tree Give-a-Ways, where you can pick up a one-gallon tree, are located at farmer’s markets, parks, festivals, and even Home Depot parking lots. Check the Treebaltimore website for a calendar of give-a-way events. Alternatively, you can print out a coupon worth $25 toward your purchase of a tree from a private nursery.
The first consideration is choosing the right tree for your space. Look around the spot where the tree is to be planted. Will the trees branches collide with the house or garage as they spread? If there are power lines overhead, select a smaller tree that won’t grow into the wires. Larger trees mean more benefits, but they need to be planted in open areas. It’s best not to plant a really large tree next to the house but, rather, around the perimeter of your property.
By the way, it is a misconception that trees break into our sewer and pipelines searching for water. Only if your pipes are already broken and leaking water, will tree roots gravitate toward the leaks.
Next decide on the species. Treebaltimore.org provides a long list of trees that are appropriate for Baltimore as well as trees that are undesirable for various reasons. It indicates the trees’ common name and species name as well as their ultimate spread and height and whether they are a species native to the Baltimore region. The website advises that native species are preferable.
How to Plant the Tree
It is a crisp and sunny day. You don your work clothes, gather a few simple tools, and go out to plant your tree amidst a gaggle of enthusiastic cheerleaders: your children. You contacted Miss Utility at 1-800-257-7777 at least two business days before and have gotten the go-ahead to dig. You remove your tree planting instructions from your pocket and begin.
The detailed instructions come from www.treebaltimore.org/how-to-plant/. It gives you measurements on how wide and deep a hole to dig, how to place the young tree in the hole, and how to fill the hole. It advises you on mulching and watering, and its clear illustrations demonstrate the entire process.
Phew, that was a little bit of work but satisfying – and fun for the kids. Now you can all just stand around and watch the tree grow, right? Well, not quite. You do have to take care of the baby tree. Most important is to give it lots of water from mid-May to mid-September: 20 gallons (10 minutes with the hose on medium pressure) once a week for the first two years – twice a week in the absence of rain in the summer. In fact, maintenance over the first few years after planting is the key to success.
I hope I’ve helped you appreciate the trees among which we live and have inspired you to plant one of your very own.