It ain’t easy be­ing green

Fun facts about the best neigh­bour on your street

The Peterborough Examiner - - ARTS & LIFE - VERN BASTABLE

They’re quiet, they’re help­ful and they mind their own busi­ness. Does this neigh­bour sound too good to be true? For all they do for us, be­ing a tree in Peter­bor­ough is a darn tough job. Let’s take a quick look at the is­sues fac­ing trees in our city and what ex­actly our leafy neigh­bours do for us.

Like the frog said, it ain’t easy be­ing green. Ur­ban life puts a lot of stress on trees. This makes it much harder to be­come long-lived giants like their for­est cousins.

City trees are com­monly planted in ar­eas that re­strict their root growth. Most folks think of a tree’s root sys­tem as an up­side-down mir­rored im­age of the tree, with many large deep roots shoot­ing straight down, deep into the earth — but wait! While trees do have some deep roots, the ma­jor­ity of a root sys­tem is found within the top foot of soil. You read cor­rectly — al­most all of a tree’s roots grow right be­low the sur­face. Ex­ces­sive foot traf­fic, cars and heavy equip­ment can com­pact the soil. This re­moves the air pock­ets in the soil that al­low trees to breath and ab­sorb wa­ter and nu­tri­ents.

Our ur­ban trees also have a harder time col­lect­ing wa­ter and nu­tri­ents. Our paved city sur­faces rush rain­wa­ter quickly into our storm sew­ers and away from thirsty roots. Added to that, the wa­ter is of­ten con­tam­i­nated by road salt, air pol­lu­tion and lit­ter.

Fur­ther­more, nu­tri­ents nor­mally found in rich top­soil are com­monly re­moved dur­ing the con­struc­tion of our homes and busi­nesses be­fore trees are planted. Im­por­tant nu­tri­ents found in fallen leaves and de­cay­ing or­ganic mat­ter are of­ten raked up and carted far away from our leafy friends.

And if that is not enough stress, we com­monly dam­age trees with lawn mow­ers, weed-whack­ers, bike locks and ve­hi­cles. These open wounds can be ex­ploited by na­tive and ex­otic pests and dis­eases.

So what? With so many other things to worry about in Peter­bor­ough to­day, why should we care about our leafy neigh­bours? Our trees pro­vide an enor­mous amount of ben­e­fits to us on a daily ba­sis!

Trees have been proven to in­crease prop­erty val­ues, some­times up to 25 per cent. Boom.

Trees are good for busi­ness. Shop­pers tend to en­joy the shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence more, and spend more, when leafy land­scap­ing is in­volved. I’m not mak­ing this up.

Dol­lars can be saved in heat­ing and cool­ing costs by hav­ing trees strate­gi­cally placed around our build­ings. Trees re­duce noise and air pol­lu­tion, which can re­duce or elim­i­nate the need for built sound bar­ri­ers or ex­pen­sive air fil­tra­tion sys­tems. Should I keep go­ing?

Ur­ban forests help pre­vent flood­ing. They slow down run-off, hold­ing wa­ter in leafy canopies while sip­ping roots drink up the rain­wa­ter be­fore it hits our al­ready stressed storm sew­ers, sav­ing un­told amounts in flood dam­ages. And there’s more …

Trees soak up sun­light and fight cli­mate change by pulling car­bon out of the at­mos­phere and trans­form­ing it into su­gar and oxy­gen. You can breathe a bit eas­ier with a sweet trade like that help­ing to re­solve our cur­rent cli­mate cri­sis.

Trees are also vi­tal sources of food and providers of habi­tat for the birds, bees and other crit­ters we share our en­vi­ron­ment with.

Fi­nally, trees en­hance our lives just by be­ing present. The beauty of the flow­er­ing east­ern red­bud, the au­tumn colours of the maples or the smile gained from watch­ing two squir­rels chas­ing each other around the trunk of a tree — these ex­pe­ri­ences make our lives more vi­brant. Trees help us re­duce stress and to heal faster. Trees cre­ate a sense of place, a feel­ing of home and a rea­son for po­etry and song.

De­spite the stres­sors, ur­ban trees do a great job at over­com­ing the odds, and in great neigh­bourly fash­ion, they do so with­out com­plain­ing at all. If you are con­sid­er­ing a great neigh­bour for your yard, keep in mind that spring and fall are the best times to plant a tree. In the spring and fall, the weather is cooler, the soils are moist, and trees are “dor­mant” (like try­ing to move a child to bed, some­times, while they are sleepy, the dis­rup­tion is re­duced … some­times).

At Ecol­ogy Park, we are proud to have a great va­ri­ety of trees avail­able for sale and are happy to of­fer ad­vice on choos­ing the right tree, tree plant­ing and gen­eral tree care. The park is open Thurs­day (10 a.m.-6 p.m.), Fri­day through Sun­day (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) un­til Oct. 13. Our an­nual one-day Au­tumn Tree Sale is on Satur­day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., where you can save money on se­lect trees and shrubs, and rub el­bows with other tree-trea­sur­ing folks. Full de­tails avail­able here:­ogy-park-an­nual-au­tumn-tree-sale/

With all the good things trees do for us, isn’t it time to let some new leafy neigh­bours help you?

Vern Bastable is the man­ager of GreenUP’s Ecol­ogy Park. Learn more at


Vern Bastable, man­ager of GreenUP Ecol­ogy Park, helps a cus­tomer find the per­fect tree at the Au­tumn Tree Sale. The uniquely shaped leaves of the tulip tree (Liri­o­den­dron tulip­ifera), a Carolinian for­est species that adds beauty and bio­di­ver­sity to our re­gion but needs to be shel­tered form bit­ter win­ter winds.

Visit­ing the GreenUP Ecol­ogy Park Au­tumn Tree Sale of­fers the added bonus of en­joy­ing some stun­ning dis­plays of fall colours amongst the many na­tive trees and plants that are care­fully cu­rated by Ecol­ogy Park staff.

With its beau­ti­ful leaves, the sil­ver maple (Acer sac­cha­r­inum), a na­tive species that grows well in moist con­di­tions, would make a lovely neigh­bour.

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