Trees: Fun Facts about the Best Neighbour on Your Street

October 4th, 2019

Vern Bastable helps customers choose the right tree at Ecology Park (Photo 2018, by Karen Halley)

By Vern Bastable, Director of GreenUP Ecology Park

They’re quiet, they’re helpful, and they mind their own business.  Does this neighbour sound too good to be true? For all they do for us, being a tree in Peterborough is a darn tough job. Let’s take a quick look at the issues facing trees in our City and what exactly our leafy neighbours do for us.

Like the frog said, it ain’t easy being green.  Urban life puts a lot of stress on trees. This makes it much harder to become long-lived giants like their forest cousins.

City trees are commonly planted in areas that restrict their root growth. Most folks think of a tree’s root system as an upside-down mirrored image of the tree, with many large deep roots shooting straight down, deep into the earth – but wait!  While trees do have some deep roots, the majority of a root system is found within the top foot of soil.  You read correctly – almost all of a tree’s roots grow right below the surface.  Excessive foot traffic, cars, and heavy equipment can compact the soil.  This removes the air pockets in the soil that allow trees to breath and absorb water and nutrients.

Our urban trees also have a harder time collecting water and nutrients. Our paved city surfaces rush rainwater quickly into our storm sewers and away from thirsty roots.  Added to that, the water is often contaminated by road salt, air pollution, and litter.

Furthermore, nutrients normally found in rich topsoil are commonly removed during the construction of our homes and businesses before trees are planted.  Important nutrients found in fallen leaves and decaying organic matter are often raked up and carted far away from our leafy friends.

The uniquely shaped leaves of the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

And if that is not enough stress, we commonly damage trees with lawn mowers, weed-whackers, bike locks and vehicles.  These open wounds can be exploited by native and exotic pests and diseases.

So what? With so many other things to worry about in Peterborough today, why should we care about our leafy neighbours?  Our trees provide an enormous amount of benefits to us on a daily basis!

Trees have been proven to increase property values, sometimes up to 25%.  Boom.

Trees are good for business. Shoppers tend to enjoy the shopping experience more, and spend more, when leafy landscaping is involved.  I’m not making this up.

Dollars can be saved in heating and cooling costs just by having trees strategically placed around our buildings.  Trees reduce noise and air pollution, which can reduce or eliminate the need for built sound barriers or expensive air filtration systems. Should I keep going?

The beautiful leaves of the silver maple (Acer saccarinum)

Urban forests help prevent flooding. They slow down runoff, holding water in leafy canopies while sipping roots drink up the rainwater before it hits our already stressed storm sewers, saving untold amounts in flood damages. And there’s more…

Trees soak up sunlight and fight climate change by pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and transforming it into sugar and oxygen.  You can breathe a bit easier with a sweet trade like that helping resolve our current climate crisis.

Trees are also vital sources of food and providers of habitat for the birds, bees and other critters we share our environment with.

Finally, trees enhance our lives just by being present. The beauty of the flowering Eastern Redbud, the autumn colours of the maples, or the smile gained from watching two squirrels chasing each other around the trunk of a tree – these experiences make our lives more vibrant. Trees help us reduce stress and to  heal faster. Trees create a sense of place, a feeling of home, and a reason for poetry and song.

Vern Bastable helps a customer find trees at Ecology Park in the fall of 2018. (Photo: Karen Halley)

Despite the stressors, urban trees do a great job at overcoming the odds, and in great neighbourly fashion, they do so without complaining at all.  If you are considering a great neighbour for your yard, keep in mind that spring and fall are the best times to plant a tree. In the Spring and Fall, the weather is cooler, the soils are moist, and trees are “dormant” (like trying to move a child to bed, sometimes, while they are sleepy, the disruption is reduced… sometimes…).

The Ecology Park Native Plant and Tree Nursery is typically open from Victoria Day long weekend through to Thanksgiving each year. We are proud to have a great variety of trees available for sale and are happy to offer advice on choosing the right tree, tree planting, and general tree care. Click here for information for the coming season.

With all the good things trees do for us, isn’t it time to let some new leafy neighbours help you?

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