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The hidden value of trees

In CategoryTim Whitcombe
ByGardenAdvice Tim Whitcombe

There was a time, not so long ago, when large trees in the garden were seen as a problem. Now that way of thinking is rapidly becoming outdated. The need to take urgent action on climate change is making people more aware of the value of trees and plants as a means of taking carbon out of the atmosphere, and how that’s just as relevant in an English garden as it is in the rainforests of the Amazon. This, in turn, is acting as a reminder of all the other amazing things that trees can do for us and how much pleasure they can bring.

How it works

Just how do plants store carbon? It’s part of the process of photosynthesis, whereby they use the energy from sunlight to power a chemical reaction between water and carbon in the atmosphere in order to produce food. This, in turn, enables them to repair damage and grow. Waste carbon is secreted into the soil while other carbon remains bound up in plant tissue. If wood is used to make furniture, building materials and so forth instead of being burned or allowed to rot, the carbon remains stored safely within it.

 

Chestnut Tree

Unfortunately, when large areas of forest are destroyed or when long-frozen peat bogs thaw out, releasing carbon stored thousands of years ago, the carbon they contain goes back into the atmosphere. We can all work to counter this by planting as many trees as we can – either indirectly, through actions as simple as using the search engine Ecosia, to directly, in our own gardens.

Different types of trees

When it comes to storing carbon, not all trees are created equal. Fast growing trees like sycamore and chestnut, which have traditionally been seen as weeds, are starting to be valued more because of the speed with which they can do it. Other trees, however, offer their own environmental benefits. Flowering trees like cherry, apple and acacia help to support bees, which is particularly important at a time when bee populations are in decline. Hawthorn, birch and oak provide multiple sources of nutrition for wild animals and birds, supporting the wider ecosystem. Studies suggest that most trees do best when in the company of different species rather than more of their own kind, probably because they’re not competing for the same balance of nutrients in the soil.

Caring for your trees

If you want your trees to prosper, you can help by ensuring that they’re well supplied with nutrients – especially when they’re young saplings – and that they’re protected from injury and disease. The best tree surgeons in West London can offer experts skilled in this sort of work – despite what some people think, they’re not just there to chop trees down but offer a wide range of other services. If you have a problem with trees blocking the flow of light into your home, pruning them or training them so that they grow in a different direction is a much better option than simply removing them. You can also shape them deliberately to form attractive features like bowers or to provide shade for key areas like your driveway. On hot summer days when you want to be outside but not get too much direct sun exposure, having a tree-shaded spot in the garden is ideal.

 

Oak Tree

Green cities

Increasingly, city planners around the world are looking for ways to introduce more trees to the urban environment. As well as helping to tackle larger scale problems like climate change, trees help to purify the air locally, reducing the effects of pollution, as well as releasing oxygen and soaking up excess heat. They muffle the sound of traffic and there’s increasing evidence that just seeing them has a positive effect on mental health, just one more reason to look after our trees. In Japan, ‘forest bathing’ (shinrin yoku) has been practised for centuries as a means of reducing stress and promoting emotional wellbeing.

It’s probable that the cities of the future will be much greener places and that we’ll all be better off as a result. While councils always take their time turning ideas into plans and plans into action, however, homeowners can get on with planting and caring for trees right away. Even renters have the option of keeping smaller trees in pots and planters as long as they have a bit of outdoor space. These trees have immediate benefits for all of us and by soaking up carbon they also help to keep the Earth healthy for future generations.

 

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