DIANA SOMERVILLE COLUMN: Always a good time to plant a tree

“YOU SHOULD PLANT a tree for every year you’re alive,” my grandfather told me. “It’s a way to say thanks to the Earth.”

Autumn was perfect for planting new trees or relocating “volunteers.” Although Grandpa admired their strength and audacity, trees often sprouted up too close to the house or utility lines.

“Trees never stop growing,” says arborist Gordon Clark, with Clark Horticulture in Port Angeles.

Often trees are planted too close to a building.

“You don’t want to face a future of drastic pruning,” Clark said.

“The right plant in the right place is the mantra.”

For a good long-term choice, feel free to ask a pro instead of relying on nursery tag information.

Well-placed trees save money by reducing your need for summer cooling and by protecting your home from harsh weather.

A young, healthy tree provides the cooling equivalent of 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Landscaping with mature trees increases your home’s market value by as much as 20 percent.

On the North Olympic Peninsula, it’s easy to overlook the value of our “urban forests.”

Trees that beautify our streets and parks — as well as those in your yard — also improve air quality, producing oxygen and cleaning away pollutants.

By reducing erosion and absorbing storm water, trees improve water quality.

Their leafy canopies and broad root systems slow runoff and reduce flooding. They filter the pollutants from water flowing from storm drains into the ocean.

What’s the advantages of just one tree? That depends on the size and kind of tree, says the International Society of Arboraculture’s Web page, www. treesaregood.org.

One bigleaf maple in my yard absorbs an impressive 2,595 gallons of water a year, said its “tree benefit calculator” on the Web site.

That startling figure made me wonder: Could thoughtfully chosen trees offer a green solution to meeting our new storm ­water regulations?

Well, yes, given successes in Portland, Ore., San Mateo County, Calif., and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Vancouver began “Green Streets” in 1995. Trees, native plants and vibrant streetscapes encourage walking or using bike lanes while also managing storm water sustainably.

Now a full-blown community effort, Green Streets has improved the city’s mix of transportation choices and involved people beautifying their yards and adopting neighborhood street gardens.

Free compost, sharing plant giveaways and easy access to experienced master gardeners enrich the program.

See their results at http://tinyurl.com/cfa433.

We and trees breathe in harmony — perhaps the root of why trees make us feel good.

So many factors contribute to our feeling healthy or content that researchers struggle to explain how trees impact us. But we have some tantalizing clues.

Patients who can see trees from their hospital windows heal more quickly from surgery, researchers found.

And simply seeing trees helps people recover from stresses within five minutes in laboratory studies.

That’s not counting the health benefits of nuts and fruits or the simple joys of watching birds, squirrels and other wild critters.

Urban forests can also serve as wildlife corridors. We have some 60 million to 200 million spaces along our city streets where trees could be planted, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Enhancing urban forests in shopping and business districts provides an economic boost by stimulating local economies, research studies suggest.

A quality urban forest positively influences shoppers’ perceptions; retail areas are more attractive to shoppers, apartments rent more quickly and tenants stay longer.

With trees, size matters. Tiny token trees edging parking lots don’t make up an urban forest, UDA Forest Service research suggests.

Consider: Trees live the longest of anything — and each tree is a hope for the future.


Diana Somerville, an award-winning author and science writer, lives in Clallam County and can be contacted via www.DianaSomerville.com.

Act Locally, her column on sustainability and the environment on the North Olympic Peninsula, appears every other Tuesday.

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