Trees provide benefits all year long

Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.  |  1/4/2011 1:07:38 AM

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For Release On Or After 01/15/10

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

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 also appropriate to appreciate the trees we already have and all they provide for us. You might not consider trees to be that important. Who needs to rake up all of those leaves, anyway? But trees provide many benefits 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 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 six to 10 degrees. Overall, this helps moderate temperatures where trees are planted in abundance.

On a more personal level, properly placed trees that 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 and help reduce heating bills.

Air pollution is a real concern, and trees help out with that, too. The leaf surfaces of trees trap and filter ash, dust, pollen and other particles in the air – although many trees admittedly contribute to the pollen count when they bloom. Trees also help supply the oxygen we need to breathe as well as use up carbon dioxide 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 grow in the upper foot of soil and spread out well beyond the branches, doing an excellent job of holding the soil in place.

Trees cut down on noise pollution by acting as sound barriers. Almost anyone 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 creating a quiet retreat, trees play a vital roll. Small-growing evergreen trees, such as cherry laurel, Little Gem magnolia and spruce pine, can be very effective in muffling or moderating noise.

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

The shelter trees provide benefits wildlife. Squirrels, birds and other wildlife 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 people. Neighborhoods with large trees along the street and in yards are attractive to almost everyone. And flowering trees, such as crape myrtles, dogwoods, sweet olives and vitex, provide color and fragrance to the landscape.

Trees contribute greatly to beautification, increase property values and shade our outdoor living areas in the summer. 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. Don’t forget to celebrate Arbor Day and plant suitable trees wherever and whenever an appropriate situation exists.

A little history

The idea for Arbor Day originally came from Nebraska, a state which was once largely a treeless plain. On January 4, 1872, J. Sterling Morton first proposed a tree-planting holiday to be called “Arbor Day” at a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture. The date was set for April 10, 1872.

The concept of Arbor Day gained favor around the nation, and most states now have passed laws or resolutions providing for the observance of Arbor Day.

Louisiana also has legally designated Arbor Day to observe and celebrate the wonderful benefits and pleasures trees provide to humanity. In 1968, the Louisiana Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 249, which declared, “Be it enacted by the Legislature of Louisiana: The third Friday in January is hereby designated as Arbor Day throughout the state of Louisiana.”

The date Arbor Day is observed varies from state to state because climates are different around the country. Since winters here are relatively mild, the ideal tree-planting season in Louisiana is from November through February. That makes the third Friday in January a very appropriate day to plant trees.

Rick Bogren

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