Caption: A garden of hostas beneath a Burr Oak tree. Photo credit: Photo courtesy of MelindaMyers.com
by Melinda Myers
Celebrate National Arbor Day, the last Friday in April, by planting new trees and caring for established ones in your landscape and community. This special holiday was first celebrated in 1872. Arbor Day celebrations continue to recognize the important role trees play in our environment and more recently their impact on our mental and emotional well-being.
These long-lived members of our landscapes and communities help combat flooding, shade our homes, reduce energy use, remove pollutants from the air and so much more. According to the USDA Forest Service, properly placed trees around buildings can help reduce air conditioning requirements by 30 percent and save between 20 to 50 percent on energy used for heating.
Trees also help improve water quality and reduce flooding. They lessen the impact of stormwater by intercepting rainfall, absorbing, and transpiring moisture from the soil into the air. Their canopies intercept and slow rainfall’s velocity before it hits the ground. This reduces runoff and erosion, allowing more water to be absorbed by the soil instead of overwhelming our storm sewers.
Spending time among the trees also helps boost our immune system. Studies reveal tree-filled landscapes help decrease domestic conflict, as well as aggression and violence at schools. A mindful walk through the woods, known as forest bathing, helps reduce blood pressure and stress. It increases focus, energy levels, improves sleep and much more.
When planting new trees make sure to select one that will fit in the space when mature and thrive in the growing conditions. Look for those that provide multiple seasons of beauty and support birds and pollinators as they deliver the many other environmental benefits.
Select a planting location away from overhead and underground utilities to avoid future conflicts. Always call 811, a free underground utility locating service, at least three business days before putting the first shovel in the ground.
Water new plantings thoroughly when the top few inches of soil are crumbly and slightly moist. Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation to apply the water directly to the soil. Even established trees need to be watered during dry periods. Apply ten gallons of water for every inch of the trunk’s diameter when the top four to six inches begin to dry.
Prevent hungry critters from dining on new and existing plantings. Apply an organic rain and snow resistant animal repellent like Plantskydd (plantskydd.com). This odor-based repellent deters animals before they take a bite out of your plants.
Protect new and existing trees from mowers and weed whips. Plant perennial groundcovers under the tree or cover the soil with two to three inches of shredded bark or woodchips. Be sure to keep the mulch off the trunk of the tree.
Take time not only on Arbor Day but everyday to plant, tend and enjoy trees that provide beauty, shade and so many benefits to our daily lives and future generations. Get the whole family involved and help improve the tree cover in your hometown so everyone benefits.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned