If we care for the trees, they’ll care for us, too.
Andre Savaria loves trees. When asked why, the certified arborist can barely catch a breath as he describes the importance of his work and the life well-lived that inspired it.
“Trees can give so much,” says Savaria. “They bring so much value to a community.”
Savaria’s love of trees began early, with long and pleasurable hikes through the pristine forests of northern Manitoba. Later, as he moved into forestry as a career, he spent weeks at a time working in the woods.
Now as an arborist with Ecofor Consulting, he says, he gets to bring some of that joy to the urban environment.
Trees are some of our best weapons in the battle against climate change, says Savaria. They absorb pollution and give back pure, clean oxygen into the atmosphere. And Savaria has noticed in his over 35-year career that homeowners are becoming more aware of those benefits. “People think more now about putting the right tree in the right place,” he says, which means that instead of being uprooted because they’re too close to a fence or house, those trees will get to live a long, healthy life contributing to our cleaner air.
While continuously working to clean the air we breathe, trees also bring a host of other perks when planted on our properties. A few deciduous trees planted on the south and west sides of the home will help keep it cool in summer. And, come winter, their bare branches easily allow the sun’s rays to warm the building.
You’ll spend less on air conditioning during those heatwaves and heating costs will be lower during cold spells, says Savaria. In fact, just three carefully placed trees can help you save up to 30 per cent on your energy bills. Similarly, if you plant a shade tree or two near your air conditioning unit, it won’t have to work as hard to cool your home, using as much as 10 per cent less electricity than a unit that’s working hard in the hot sun.
And it’s not just individual homeowners who can reap the many benefits of a well-treed property. In many newer communities, planners are also more aware these days of the importance of trees, says Savaria. Keeping as many treed areas as possible during development reduces air pollution and boosts property values
throughout the community.
“Any opportunity you have [in a newer area] to create a stand of trees or complement what nature’s given you is fantastic,” says Savaria, who has worked with the developer, Delcon, in the past and currently, to keep heritage trees in place or transplant them into common areas that will see heavy use. The benefits are immediately apparent: Trees bring people outdoors. “You see people walking, biking, multi-generation families using the area,” says Savaria.
Trees in shared community areas provide shade, reducing temperatures on hot summer days by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. They also bring shelter from harsh winter winds, prevent soil erosion and attract birds, says Savaria. Planted along a neighbourhood road, they slow traffic, improving pedestrian safety. And trees are very resilient, provided they get a bit of regular TLC, he adds.
All the same holds true for natural treed areas nearby, he continues, which are important not just to people but to our animal friends, too. Savaria has worked in the heavily forested Whitemud Ravine system and has seen moose, deer, coyotes and beavers. Over 150 species of birds have been seen in or over the ravine, he adds. “It’s a key region of north-south connectivity for wildlife,” he stresses, “where these species can travel safely.”
Mature trees along the ravine also provide shade to regulate water temperature in the creek, and help protect the critical habitat in the we lands along the banks.
What does all this mean to the people in nearby communities? Of course, we get the pleasure of easy access, to walk or bike through the ravine and enjoy the calming benefits of being in the trees.
And even for those who have a bit more trouble getting out into nature, says Savaria, just looking out the living room window onto an area like this is a
soothing antidote to the stresses of modern urban living.
“We do have to be strategic about where we plant them,” says Savaria, “but we can’t plant enough trees. Each and every one is of benefit.”
Your Own Backyard
Trees can be super adaptable, low maintenance and easy to care for. And whether you’re planting because your developer mandates it or for esthetics, says Classic Landscapes Centre’s Perry Stothart “at the end of the day, they are worth it.”
Trees provide a broad range of psychosocial benefits, says Stothart. “They look good, they’re vibrant and healthy, they give off oxygen and chemicals that are beneficial to us.” Spending time among spring’s blossoms or fall’s fiery reds and golds soothes our heart rates, he adds, and lowers blood pressure.
Studies have shown that the curb appeal that comes from landscaping increases the value of your home, says Stothart, even more than a kitchen or bathroom
renovation. “When you invest money in lan scaping you get that money back.”
IT’S ALL IN THE TIMING:
Plant from early spring to the first big snowfall for a thriving and healthy tree, says Stothart. Keep in mind, though, that summer’s heat can shock a sapling.
“It’s important to understand how large a tree is going to grow,” stresses Stothart, “so you can space them out properly in the beginning.” While you may want a beautiful, full display of greenery right away, if you plant too close together you’ll have overcrowding down the road.
Trees that will reach a full height of about 15 to 20 feet at maturity are popular choices for today’s average-size lots, he says.
Trees are hardy creatures, says Stothart, not typically bothered by normal temperature changes or harsh environmental conditions. But when planting, do
consider that fruit producers need lots of sun, he says, and aspen, ash and elm are good choices to provide shade.
TAKE YOUR PICK:
Flowering crab — especially those that don’t produce fruit — are great options for your new lot, says Stothart. “They give you a big show in spring without the mess.” Anything columnar is also popular. The Dreamweaver crab is a columnar variety that does produce fruit. “The Swedish aspen can provide privacy and security without taking up a lot of horizontal space in the yard,” says Stothart. The same goes for the towering poplar or columnar blue spruce.
CARE AND FEEDING:
Once your tree is in the ground, water it regularly, says Stothart, but make sure to give it time to dry out between waterings. Stake larger trees for the first year and add guidelines. Young trees need a low-nitrogen fertilizer in the fall.
AIM FOR DIVERSITY:
Too many of the same tree species in a community can result in the rapid spread of disease, says Stothart. If you’re seeing one tree all over your neighbourhood, it might be better to go with a different option on your property.