2019 saw a lot of big stories. But the biggest was the final realization by people (most politicians still have some catching up to do) that we are in danger of leaving our children a planet in a much worse state than the one we inherited. It’s a big fix, calling for action on a collective scale, but there is one thing that each of us can do that is easy, enjoyable, and can really make a difference – PLANT A TREE.
What’s So Great About Trees?
Every new tree has the potential to trap hundreds of pounds of carbon from the atmosphere in its lifetime. Even when it does eventually decay it takes many years for that carbon to be released – and who knows what new solutions we will have found after of the hundred or so years that tree will live? Planting a tree now is more than just a symbolic gesture – it’s a real step in the right direction, and a tree does so much more than trap carbon (the technical term is ‘sequester’). Trees in urban settings cool the city, reducing air-con costs. If it shades your home, or shelters it from wind, then it saves you on power consumed. A tree provides a habitat for birds, insects, and even plants like lichens and mosses, so a city with trees is a living thing, preserving the environment.
Of course, if the tree doesn’t live long it won’t do its job of locking up carbon and greening our cities, but if everyone on the planet planted just one tree, and half of them lived, that would be almost five billions trees – the impact would be enormous. So when planting a tree the focus should be on doing everything we can to make sure it survives as long as possible. Let’s look at how to do that.
Trees for the Future
If you are planting for the future, not just to beautify your garden now, then it’s worth taking some time to make the right choice. Some of the things to consider are:
- Choose a native tree – a tree that already exists in your area or would potentially do so. Many of our garden trees come from other countries, and that is great for diversity in our gardens. But when planting for a time when we will no longer be here, choosing a native tree makes sense. These trees have already had millions of years to adapt to your area, and so has the wildlife they support. Walk through a forest of native trees after walking through a plantation of trees planted for harvest, and you will see the difference in diversity. You can still choose native, but go for an improved form, with better color, or a more suitable form for your garden – but if this is your ‘tree for the future’, a native species makes sense.
- Don’t Push It – we can’t predict future weather, and freak events happen, so it you want your tree to be here in 50 or 100 years, don’t choose a tree that is already at the limits of its hardiness or heat resistance. Try to plant a tree that is in the middle of its range where you are – not at the northern or southern limits. That way it will still be happy in a warmer world (the most likely future), but it will have a better chance of surviving freak weather events (which are very likely in the future)
- Choose for Your Soil – find a tree to plant that will be happy in your soil. If you have lots of clay, and wet ground, then choose a suitable tree for that. Maybe you want to plant on a dry slope – then choose something drought resistant. Remember you are going to be around for much of this tree’s life, so it needs to be able to take care of itself. Trees in environments they don’t enjoy are more likely to become diseased and die young, and we want longevity in our tree for the future.
- Choose for Longevity – trees have very variable life expectancies. Some live just a few decades before going into decline, while others are just getting into their stride after the first 100 years. If you are planting for the future, then choose a tree species that has a longer life expectancy. These trees are often slower-growing, so you may never see it reach maturity. But remember that the grand old trees you might see around you were never seen like that by the people who planted the either, and leaving a legacy can give you a great feeling of purpose.
- Give it Room – this is undoubtedly the biggest single factor that can lead to a tree being cut down prematurely. We have all seen the huge tree jammed up against a house, so don’t make that mistake with this tree. Start by looking at the potential future size of your choice. A lot of suppliers list sizes that are just what the tree will be in 10 or 20 years, not in 50 or a 100, so always over-estimate. Usually, a tree planted among others will he taller and narrower than one planted out in the open, so choose the widest width expected for a tree on an open lawn. If you find that the potential diameter of your tree is 50 feet, then plant it at least 25 feet away from your home, and 30 feet away would be even better. Don’t plant under overhead wires, on your property line or near a road.
Remember that people make additions to their homes, or roads get re-routed, so try to plant in a spot where you reckon not much is likely to happen. If you don’t have room in your garden for a full-sized tree, talk to your city, or local schools. They may be happy to accept a tree from you, and at a school it can be a learning opportunity too.
- Care for It – although in the future
your tree will need to care for itself, for the first few years it can use your
help. Some things that will help it establish and live for a long as possible include:
- Prepare the ground – a wide, shallow planting hole is best, as tree roots spread outwards much further than they do down. Use the local soil, amended with organic material if you have some, to stimulate roots and feed the tree
- Water It – when planting, use plenty of water to avoid air pockets and get the roots growing. In the first year a weekly watering, especially in the summer months, will make a huge different to its chances of survival. After that, a deep soak during a dry period while it is young will make a big difference too, but don’t plant a tree that is going to need regular watering for more than a couple of years.
If you have children, then keeping a journal of your tree’s progress, by measuring its height and trunk diameter every few months, can be a great lesson, and a way of building a bond with your Gift for the Future – all donations gratefully accepted.