Learn to Grow: The Importance of Trees

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Written by Julie Taylor, Master Gardener Volunteer

I have always been a tree-hugger. Reading the Dick and Jane series in school, I wanted to live on one of those picture-perfect tree-lined streets. The thought of climbing a tree to glimpse into a bird nest was an adventure waiting to be had. Trees were my shady escape from the heat. And playing in leaf piles in autumn was pure joy.

I still remember the joy of trees from my childhood, but have come to recognize their significance even more:

  • Trees are important as a habitat for songbirds, and as a home for caterpillars and the insect larvae that songbirds feed to their nestlings. Adult songbirds eat caterpillars and other insects that feed on tree leaves. (Mature oak trees can host up to 280 species of insects!) I accept holes in the leaves of my trees, knowing there is a possibility that whatever has chewed the holes will sometimes result in a beautiful butterfly or moth.
  • Flowering trees provide pollen and nectar sources for native bees and honeybees, so I resist the urge to spray with (even organic) pesticides.
  • Trees play an essential role in our environment. A mature tree can absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide daily and release enough oxygen into the atmosphere to support 2 adults. Research has shown a 60% reduction in harmful particulates from car fumes on streets lined with trees.
  • Trees prevent erosion by absorbing water, slowing down heavy raindrops in heavy storms, and stabilizing the soil along waterways and steep mountain slopes. Tree roots also filter pollutants from storm run-off, keeping them out of the water supply.

When planting a new tree:

  • Remember that the tree will be there for decades (or longer), so plan ahead. Note the tree’s mature size so that it will not interfere with power lines or any space limitations in your yard.
  • Plant native trees which have evolved with the native insect population and are adapted to our hardiness zone 6. A great site for researching trees, shrubs, and other plants is the NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox website (https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/).
  • Avoid over-fertilization by getting a soil test to find out what your tree really needs to thrive (don’t guess!) Soil test boxes and instructions are available at the Extension office on Raccoon Road in Waynesville.
  • If you are staking large, balled and burlapped trees, learn the proper way to do so here: https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/staking.shtml

While researching information for this article I learned that North Carolina chooses a theme each year to celebrate among all the state parks, and 2022 has been designated as “Year of the Tree”. I couldn’t be more delighted.

Learn more!

Do you have a home gardening question? Email HaywoodEMGV@gmail.com or call (828) 456-3575 with a description of the issue. A Haywood County Master Gardener Volunteer will get back to you within a couple of days with research-based information.