Economists tell us that the further away a reward is, the less we will pay for it today. Our world, and modern economy, is built on having it now, as soon as possible, with food deliveries tracked to your door to the minute, and next-day anything for a simple Prime subscription. Of course we are willing to pay more for that. If delivery is 5 years away, we won’t pay the same price for something. But wait a minute, if this is true, then a tree is worthless. We wait so long to see it mature, and our life-spans are so puny we can never see it full grown. Yet humans plant trees. Perhaps we see them as our children – investments in the future that will take their own path, and end their journey long after we have ended ours. We certainly invest heavily in in our children, so perhaps those economists have it wrong – again.
Plant Trees for the Future
So, planting trees. Today, more than ever, we are told to plant them for the future, to plant them to try and raise the odds we will even have a future as a species.
Only a handful of people get to leave something that will be still there after they are gone, but anyone can plant a tree.
With a bit of luck that tree you plant tomorrow will still be standing in the 22nd century, unlike most of us. After all, every mature tree you see, at least outside a wild forest, was planted by someone who never got to see it ‘all grown up’.
In this post I I am going to look at how to give a tree that tree you plant a better chance of still being here when the future becomes the present, and encourage everyone to plant as many as they can find room for.
To give some encouragement, and see what the outcome of your planting might one day look like, in next week’s post we will look at some of the biggest examples in the country of trees you might consider planting in your garden, your community or anywhere you can.
When planting for the future, this is surely an important consideration. It makes sense to add to the local natural environment trees that are, or might, already grow there.
Yet perhaps there is room too, especially in urban areas, for exotics, trees coming from other countries. Not weedy, fast-growing plants that menace local environments, but trees that are both beautiful and tough. Perhaps they will survive better in a changing environment, and perhaps it is best to have some trees, rather than none at all. Many American trees – the Tulip tree for example – can be found as wonderful, majestic specimens in European parks and gardens. So if you love a particular tree, and want to plant one, go ahead – maybe plant a native nearby too, so they can talk to each other.
Some Thoughts on Choosing Trees for Long-term Planting
It’s worth giving some thought to what and where to plant, if your goal is for your tree to be going strong when 2150 rolls around. Here are some things to consider.
Your tree is going to have to survive an uncertain future. Most of the country is expected to become warmer, so don’t plant a tree at the borderline of its heat resistance. Trees from cooler zones should stay firmly in them, and not be planted at their southern limits. Perhaps it is best to plant trees that are at, or close to, their northern limits with you. So if you are in zone 6, plant a tree hardy to zone 6, not one hardy in zone 3, which is likely to find the future at your place too hot for comfort. If you are in zones 8 or 9, don’t go planting trees that are already a bit uncomfortable in those zones – plant something that is happy there, and even grows in zone 10.
It’s more difficult to predict future rainfalls, but if you live somewhere that already has hot and dry summers, and seems to be getting worse ones, then choose a tree that has good drought-resistance, and isn’t likely to suffer if things get even drier. Of course, if you live in a low-lying area where floods happen, those too are likely to increase, so resistance to periods underwater is a box that you should tick.
We get used to modifying soil so we can grow something that wouldn’t otherwise be there. We might add lime to make a soil more alkaline, or lots of rotted leaves and pine needles to make it more acidic. We dig the ground to improve the drainage. That can all be fine for growing shrubs, with relatively short lives, but soils, in time, always go back to their ‘natural’ state – the way they were before we arrived. So you might improve the soil in some way to get your tree off to a good start, but choose a species that will enjoy the soil just as it is – because that is almost certainly what it will be in the future.
While ‘big’ is something we love in trees, is there room for a huge tree where you are planting? Pay attention to the biggest size possible, and ignore sizes that are based on how big it will be in 10 years. These are common on nursery sites, who don’t want to scare their customers off. But 10 years in the life of a tree is almost the blink of an eye, and 50 years passes quicker than we can imagine when we are young.
We see lots of big trees in spots where they don’t fit – too close to buildings or roads is the most likely mistake. If you want your tree to still be around in 100 years, that is less likely if your tree is going to grow so big it becomes a problem, and gets taken down.
There are some obvious and well-known spots NOT to plant a tree in. Underneath power-lines; too close to a property line (where neighbors can trim it right back to the line, if they choose to); too close to a road which could be widened in the future; too close to a building (there are safety issues, or a future owner could decide to build an extension right where the tree is); or any other spot that looks vulnerable to change.
While you will probably be planting on your own land, there is a good reason we find big, old trees in city parks and on public land – they are less likely to be disturbed. If you want to plant a tree that has the best chance of long-term survival, planting in a public place can be best. Maybe you can start a tree-planting program for your community, with street trees, or allow people to plant a tree in local parks. Donating a tree will often be welcomed by cash-strapped towns, and if this is a memorial tree, a plaque can be fixed to it.
Take Your Time
Spend some time thinking hard about your choices. It can be hard to picture the likely future, and in the end it’s all a guess, but make a wise guess, not one that ends up being a disappointment.