Make room for trees

Did you feel the heat this summer? I did, too. When I had to go out on foot, I criss-crossed the streets, looking for the shadiest stretches of sidewalk.

Of course, I’ve always been a shameless tree-hugger. The landscape of the U.S. Gulf Coast city where I grew up alternated between patches of live oaks and sweet gums hung with Spanish moss, and huge stretches of bare prairie. In 38C degree heat (not counting humidity), I loved those trees.

These days we’re being hammered with cries of global warming, the thinning ozone layer and generally low air quality. I lost count of the number of heat and smog alerts we had this past summer.

Environment begins at home

We can’t turn back the clock to a time without planes, trains and automobiles. But there are a few easy steps gardeners and homeowners can take to help improve the air we breathe and offset some of the junk humans are pumping into the atmosphere.

In my view, the first, best and easiest action is to plant a tree. We squawk about losing rain forests, but forget that we’re losing tree cover in our city and province. Drive in any direction and you’ll see McMansions where fields and trees used to be.

When the weather cools, it’s perfect tree-planting time. Digging holes won’t make you so hot and bothered, and the young tree will be happier in cool ground and air. Your redbud or serviceberry or dogwood will still need regular watering, but you won’t have to water as often when summer’s hot, baking sun is gone.

Easy-peasy tree planting

Tree planting is a lot easier than it was in the old days:
1. Dig big hole.
2. Put tree’s roots/rootball in hole.
3. Spread out bare roots, or loosen covering (if any) from rootball.
4. Fill in hole, making sure root collar of tree is at soil line.
5. Tamp soil down firmly and water.

Today’s experts advise against improving the soil or staking the tree. Just let it grow naturally.

Native Ontario trees do best

Notice those trees I mentioned above? They’re all native to our area, which means they’re used the growing conditions around here – diseases, soil, temperature – all those things that can make or break a growing tree. They’re also fairly small, so they’re good for city gardens.

If you have the space and commitment, red oaks and white oaks are majestic giants that really suck up the pollution when they’re full grown. Plant those for your grandchildren, or plant an acorn to replace a giant that’s in your garden now.

Organizations like LEAF ( and Trees Ontario ( are dedicated to replanting city and country trees. Spend some time on their sites and you’ll find tonnes of info.

What trees do for us

If you or anyone else still needs convincing, here are just a few benefits of trees, backed up by research (details at Trees Ontario website):

• Green spaces, such as woodlands, promote healthful physical activity.
• Trees and grass in playground encourage kids to play more, to play creatively and to interact with adults.
• Trees gobble up air pollution, helping to cut down risk of heart disease, stroke and respiratory diseases.
• Shade trees reduce skin cancer risk
• Contact with trees and nature can reduce Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms in children.
• Seeing and being around trees reduce the mental and physical effects of stress.
• For a dollar value of your trees, go to Just one of my old oaks has a replacement value of around $21,000, I discovered.

Growing tip

Learn more about all things green at the family-fun Y Green Festival, Sept. 8, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Central Toronto YMCA, 20 Grosvenor St. at Yonge Street.

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