Spring is one of those seasons where we become a bit more aware of the plants and trees around us. And, of course springtime marks the beginning of the growing season for deciduous trees. If you live in a middle-latitude region like I do, you’ll know how good of a feeling it is when trees begin to “wake up” and leaves begin to bud.
It is useful to take a moment to remember the benefits provided by trees. As with all plants that photosynthesize, they provide the one and only route that this planet has to capture the sun’s energy and turn it into chemical energy and biomass. Yeah, kinda important right!
But we may more often consider the benefit of trees as being able to remove Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere and store it, or to stabilize soils from erosion. Or perhaps to provide habitat for countless other species, everything from mosses, to mushrooms, to birds, insects and orangutans!
In the urban environment we also reap plenty of benefits from trees as they shade our walking path, reduce wind and noise, absorb air pollutants, and help to cool the hot summer air. And, let’s not forget that they can bear fruit that we enjoy - apples, peaches, oranges, nectarines. Ok, my mouth is watering now!
So, in addition to their many benefits, trees are actually essential parts of many ecosystems. And they should be – and are- celebrated around the world! National Arbor Day, also called Arbour day, is celebrated in many different countries.
Due to the varying climates around the globe, different countries celebrate National Arbor Day on different dates. For example, while New Zealand celebrates National Arbor Day on June 5th, Brazil celebrates Arbor Day on September 21st. National Arbor Day dates are usually decided based on the ideal tree planting season for each individual country.
In short, Arbor Day usually consists of three things: tree planting, education about the importance of trees, and lessons on how to properly care for trees. It is common for Arbor Day activities to involve schools, children, and local communities in planting, tree climbing, wood-carving, and educational activities. The goal is to celebrate and educate!
Why you should care about trees
1. Carbon storage and the provision of oxygen
First and foremost, we have to discuss the fact that trees sustain life! Without trees where would we be?! Trees remove and store CO2 from the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis. In addition to the removal of CO2, oxygen is also returned back to the atmosphere, providing us with fresh air to breathe!
This ability to store carbon makes trees an important component when it comes to mitigating climate change. A recent study published in the journal Science indicated that planting more than half a trillion trees could capture 205 gigatons of carbon, resulting in a 25 percent reduction of carbon in the atmosphere. While trees are only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to solving climate change, reforestation certainly plays an important role.
2. Air purification
Tree leaves are able to remove common pollutants from the air through their stomata – tiny pores or openings in the leaves that allow for gas exchange. In 1994, a study was conducted which estimated that trees in New York city removed approximately 1,821 metric tons of air pollution at an estimated societal value of approximately $9.5 million. By just letting nature do its thing, serious environmental and economic benefits can be realized.
3. Temperature reduction
In urban areas, trees are important components of green infrastructure which provide temperature reducing functions. Tree canopies provide areas with shade, while the process of evapotranspiration reduces air temperatures. Trees transpire water through their leaves. When a molecule of water evaporates, it takes some heat with it, thereby reducing the temperature of the surrounding environment. The temperature reducing ability of trees provides a comfortable environment for humans and non-human beings.
4. Wildlife habitat
Trees provide habitat and food for many birds, bats, insects, lichen, and fungi. Trees, especially when grouped together, are essential in order to create a healthy, functioning ecosystem. When we wish to save wild species, we cannot do that unless we save their habitat and intact forests and wilderness are an essential part of species protection.
5. Aesthetic and economic benefits
We can’t forget to mention just how beautiful trees are! Whether they are old, young, big, or small, trees are an important part of creating a beautiful landscape. With their bright colours, abundant foliage, and swaying branches, trees can be quite the sight! In fact, their very presence can significantly boost residential or commercial property values. Did you know you can identify the monetary value of trees through a tree valuation?
How to promote tree health
Part of celebrating trees is learning how to keep trees healthy. There are a few different ways that you can help maintain the health of the trees in your yard or community.
Plant more trees!
If planting new trees, it is important to make sure you choose the right location for the type of tree you have chosen. For example, in many cases it is wise to choose a sunny spot with enough space for a full-grown canopy. Please don’t make the mistake of planting too close to your home or other buildings that will require you to remove the tree if it interferes with your foundation or water lines.
Also, follow the instructions when planting. Make sure you are not planting the tree too deep, as this is a common mistake that can stunt the growth of new trees. It is better to find out the right conditions for planting than to be disappointed with poor success.
Then, after-planting care is just as important. Make sure that you are giving the newly planted tree the right amount of water that it needs at the right time of year and day. It will all depend on where you are located and the type of tree, so make sure to get this important information when sourcing your tree.
Trees need care too
In periods of drought, it is a good idea to give your trees water (if allowed by your municipality) in order to reduce the stress on the tree and prolong its lifespan. Keeping the tree healthy will help to allow it to fend off disease and recover from broken branches and insect attack.
Mulching is another useful practice that can help maintain moisture and improve soil conditions, especially for young trees. So consider this for your newly planted trees in the first few years.
Pruning dead branches is another important aspect of tree maintenance. This helps to prevent disease from infecting your tree, those that are carried by insects such as Dutch Elm Disease.
Have a look up at your trees at various times throughout the year. Look for wounds on the trunk and branches, insect damage, spots on leaves, wilted curling leaves and signs of distress such as prematurely yellowing leaves. If you have concerns, contact a professional arborist for advice. They can often diagnose the issue with a phone call or by seeing a photo of the issue.
Community Tree Planting
Then what better way to build community and support a healthy local ecosystem than to take part in a community tree planting event. The benefits of trees are direct and important for the entire community, so treating trees like a community resource makes a lot of sense.
Can you get involved in your community to support planting trees to provide habitat, stabilize an eroding riverbank, enhance a park or provide shade? Usually tree planting takes both financial and labour inputs, but the benefits will last for generations to come! Consider trees as part of the legacy that you may wish to leave for others.
There are many local arbor day and tree protection and planting organizations all around the globe. They advocate for trees to be planted in communities, they help to protect trees from construction equipment or beavers or disease. They apply for funding to do their work and involve community members, groups and school kids in the activities. Consider if you also can contribute to protecting and celebrating trees in your community. Remember, as a green photosynthesizing plant, they provide us with energy and oxygen every single day. To me, that is worth protecting.
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