Home Life Get It Growing: Consider the benefits of trees

Get It Growing: Consider the benefits of trees

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(Photo by Tom Pope) Ginkgo biloba.

Arbor Day is celebrated in Louisiana each year on the third Friday in January. This date is set aside to encourage people to plant trees.

It is, I think, also appropriate to appreciate the trees we already have and all that they provide for us. You might not consider trees that important. Who needs to rake up all of those leaves anyway? But there are many benefits that trees provide and many reasons to have them around.

Most of us would agree that Louisiana summers are entirely too hot. Buildings, streets and parking lots all absorb and hold heat from the sun, and cities can be several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside. Trees moderate this heat by absorbing the sunlight’s energy and using it to create their food.

Trees provide comfortable oases by lowering air temperatures under their canopies by 6 to 10 degrees. Overall, this helps to moderate temperatures where they are planted in abundance.

On a more personal level, properly placed trees which shade your house can cut your air-conditioning bill anywhere from 10 to 50 percent during the summer. Trees planted to the south or southwest of your home will provide the most benefit. Choose deciduous shade trees – those that drop their leaves during the winter. You will have the shade you need in the summer to reduce cooling costs. And when the tree is leafless in winter, it will allow the sun to shine on the house, helping to reduce heating bills.

Air pollution is a real concern, and trees help out with that, too. The leaf surfaces of trees trap and filter out ash, dust, pollen and other particles in the air – although many trees also contribute to the pollen count when they bloom. Trees help supply the oxygen we need to breathe as well as use up the carbon dioxide that car engines emit.

Among their many additional benefits, trees stabilize the soil and prevent erosion. Trees produce an extensive network of fine feeder roots that occupy the upper foot of soil and spread out well beyond the branches, doing an excellent job of holding the soil in place.

Trees also cut down on noise pollution by acting as barriers to sound. Almost any one who lives in a new subdivision will comment on how quiet it is in older subdivisions where the trees are large and mature. Noise seems to be constantly in the background in areas with few trees.

When used to create privacy in the landscape, trees can screen an outdoor living area from view. Trees, especially evergreen types, also can be used to effectively hide unattractive views.

The shelter that trees provide benefits wildlife. Squirrels, birds and other critters make their homes in trees. In addition, the seeds of many tree species are valuable sources of food for wild animals.

Not to be overlooked is the profound psychological effect trees have on us. Neighborhoods with large trees along the street and in yards are attractive to almost everyone. And flowering trees, such as crape myrtles, dogwoods, sweet olive and vitex, provide color and fragrance in the landscape.

Trees contribute greatly to beautification, increase property values and shade our outdoor living areas in the summer; and fruit and nut trees in the landscape even provide us with something good to eat.

So take a moment to appreciate our trees. Our towns, cities and neighborhoods would be different and much less agreeable places without them.

Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu