But why should you be interested in planting new trees? Everyone seems to have a warm-fuzzy feeling about their large, woody companions, but fewer people can articulate the concrete benefits their trees provide. I'll help you out with five starters:
It seems obvious, but needs to be stated, that trees provide much-needed shade in this semi-arid region. That means your irrigation water goes further for other perennials and annuals, that your yard is inhabitable in the heat of summer, and that your cooling bills are reduced as well! What's more, a deciduous tree provides SEASONAL shade - after the leaves have fallen, its transparent canopy allows some sunlight through so your heating bills aren't appreciably increased.
Drive to get to the mountains? Heat and cook with fossil fuels? Buy products in everyday life that contribute to CO2 emissions? Don't feel bad. We all do. It's next to impossible to avoid adding impact to climate change. One incredibly easy and affordable thing you CAN do is plant a tree to offset some of your impact! Trees use CO2 to photosynthesize, sequestering carbon as they grow, which they use to lignify (harden) tissues in their trunks and roots. A theoretical 30 inch diameter American Elm in my front yard would sequester nearly 450 pounds of carbon in a single year's growth, and would reduce the amount of CO2 emitted due to heating and cooling by more than 100 pounds. (Numbers provided by iTree, a peer-reviewed, open-source modeling program used to estimate tree benefits)
3. Local Air Quality
Tree leaves pull air in via tiny pores called stomata. These pores and the tree's tissues do a great job of filtering harmful compounds and particulates from the air. There is a measurable effect on microclimate-scale air quality from mature trees. My theoretical Elm would remove irritant particulates under 10 microns in size as well as asthma-inducing smog component O3 (ozone), making the air in my front yard cleaner and healthier - which is a benefit I AND my community can enjoy!
4. Add a little wildness to your backyard
Wildlife are huge fans of trees. From the squirrel nesting in the Elm cavity in the photo to the left to the Red-Tail Hawk who hunts from the top of a Cottonwood down the street, trees provide habitat, shelter, food and countless other resources to the biotic community in urban, suburban and wildland areas. Like birds? Plant something thick-canopied with persistent fruit like a Hawthorn and you'll never want for tiny visitors!
A study complied in 1984 (Ulrich) followed post-operative recovery of a group of patients with two different views out of their windows. One group could see a "natural" view including vegetation, and the other was treated to a view of an adjacent brick wall. The group with vegetation out their window showed statistically significant improvement in terms of nurses' assessments of their condition, amount of strong analgesics and narcotics administered and also showed a slight improvement in amount of postoperative complications. This study has been pointed to over and over, though it's not the only one that highlights the health benefits of having trees and vegetation in our immediate surroundings. Research has also highlighted improvements in symptoms of ADD (Taylor et. al, 2001) and increases in ability to concentrate and make good decisions (Kuo, 2001 and Taylor et. al, 2002) when people are exposed to natural settings.
So given that it's the perfect time to be introducing woody plants to your landscape in Colorado, what are you waiting for? Most nurseries are starting to get their stock for the season, so get out there and find a few healthy babies to put in the soil!
Of course, there IS a right and a wrong way to plant - so check out the resources below to make sure you're giving your babies the best shot at a long and happy life:
Plant The Right Way (Treepeople.org)
New Tree Planting (Treesaregood.org)
PLEASE don't hesitate to contact a Certified Arborist if you have questions about the right species to plant or where the best spot on your property is to place a given specimen. Arborists deal with trees at maturity, so we're uniquely equipped to predict your baby's potential and envision the ways it might conflict with the environment around it.
Thanks for reading and happy planting!