As spring begins to show up on the horizon, many homeowners and landscapers are thinking about planting some trees this year. Their motivations may be economic, environmental, or psychological; we’ve known those general ideas for many years. But thanks to some extensive scientific research, we now know a lot of specific numbers about how helpful trees really are. Here’s a look at the Arbor Day Foundation’s information on those three major areas and how trees improve them. Maybe getting some specifics on what trees can do will be enough to inspire just a few more people to take advantage.
Dollars and cents get most people’s attention. And there have been many fortunes made in the harvest and utilization of trees, but an uncut tree produces its own revenue stream. It’s a widely understood rule of thumb that property values are increased by the presence of mature, healthy trees. We’ve also heard many times that trees around a building help absorb heat and reduce energy costs.
But just how much? Estimates are that a tree adds between $1,000 and $10,000 to the value of a piece of property, and that’s strictly in the context of having a single tree. When the planting is part of an overall plan to tie the property together visually, the impact is even greater.
Of course, the value of your home isn’t all that important if you don’t plan to sell. There is still economic value for you in planting trees. They have a phenomenal capacity for absorbing heat from the sun and reducing your cooling costs–as much as 12% for mature trees. Trees can also buffer winds and reduce damage from storms.
Speaking of trees and weather, greater planting of trees has real potential to help clean up our atmosphere. If free urban spaces were filled with trees, there would be a reduction of 33 million tons in the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That’s to say nothing of placing trees in open land throughout rural areas. And because of the energy savings noted above for cooling homes and businesses, trees could be saving $4 billion per year in energy costs if we planted more aggressively.
The ultimate solution to global warming is still to reduce the production of greenhouse gases, but it’s one thing to stop the bleeding. It’s another thing entirely to turn the situation around and get the dangerous backlog of carbon dioxide cleared from the atmosphere. The time needed to eliminate the existing quantities will shorten dramatically with greater utilization of trees.
Stabilization of soil is also critical. The huge flow of sediment to the mouth of the Mississippi River could be greatly reduced if land hundreds of miles upstream were better protected with trees. And because the water would stay local instead of running off to the river, there would be more water available to recharge underground aquifers that supply wells and provide geological benefits.
People generally prefer to look at trees than at open space. Just consider the energy and expense undertaken to view fall foliage each year. But science is finding out the specifics of how trees improve our emotional well-being. They’ve been shown to improve stress levels by lowering blood pressure and decreasing muscle tension after just five minutes.
And just looking at the green beauty of trees isn’t the only soothing element of good trees. People who grow apple trees have something at their home that provides outdoor time, healthy eating, and time with family as they care for the trees and make use of the harvest.
Trees seem to be a central part of any scenic view. That alone inspires a good amount of tree planting. But for the more hard-nosed consumer who dreads leaf cleanup or grass trimming from trees, just maybe these hard numbers will lead to greater utilization of trees in a wide variety of applications.