Plant a native tree to celebrate Florida's Arbor Day!

Pileated woodpeckers work a red bay ( (Persea borbonia)
before it was killed by the laurel wilt disease.

Trees are so important!

And to receive the maximum benefits with the least amount of effort, plant a tree native to your region and one that's been bred from local stock.  Here is a post to help with this: Natives for your landscape: an FNPS tool for you.

In addition to being beautiful and supporting local wildlife, here are a few of the more quantifiable benefits.  
- clean the air. In 1991, Chicago's 51 million trees “removed an estimated 17 tons of carbon monoxide, 93 tons of sulfur dioxide, 98 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 210 tons of ozone, and 234 tons of particulate matter. They [also] sequestered about 155,000 tons of carbon. ... where trees were large and lush, they could improve air quality by as much as 15 percent during the hottest hours of midday. More trees and bigger trees meant cleaner air." (What Is a Tree Worth)

- absorb water. A full-grown oak tree can absorb 400 gallons of water on a summer's day. In the article cited above, a study of New York City's 592,000 "...street trees reduced stormwater runoff by nearly 900 million gallons each year, saving the city $35.6 million it would have had to spend to improve its stormwater systems. The average street tree intercepted 1,432 gallons, a service worth $61, a figure large enough to impress cost-conscious city managers." In Jacksonville, a beautiful bioswale designed to absorb stormwater has attracted some positive attention. Pollution Solution: Lasalle Bioswale Project. But you don't have to be a big city to build a rain garden, see my rain garden articles starting with this one: Rain lilies for my rain gardens., which includes links to other articles on this topic.

- cool the air in two ways. The most obvious method is the shade that trees cast. Proper placement of trees can save you significant money in your utility bills. In the "What is a Tree Worth" article mentioned above, a study in Sacramento, California "revealed that a tree planted to the west of a house saved about three times more energy ($120 versus $39) in a year than the same kind of tree planted to the south." The trick is to use a groups deciduous trees that will be large enough and close enough to shade the building, but not so large or close so that they could cause damage.

Secondly, much like when you sweat, a tree cools the air around it when water evaporates from its leaves. Of all the water absorbed by trees only 5 to 10% of of it is actually used by the tree in photosynthesis and other cellular activities. The vast majority of the absorbed water evaporates into the air via the pores (stomata) in the leaves and in some cases young stems that are green. This process is called transpiration, which is a passive process driven by the big suck of the evaporation from the leaves. For more information on transpiration see my post Water Science for Gardeners.

Red maples (Acer rubrum) really stand out in the fall. Early spring the red maples are red again with seeds.

Plant provenance 

Red maples are excellent trees for your landscape, but they are native up the east coast all the way into Canada. Those Canadian trees will NOT do well in Florida even though they are the same species. So purchase your trees from nurseries that sell only locally-bred plants. Go to to find a nursery near you or to find a specific plant.

Trees support the wildlife in your ecosystem.
If possible, leave the remnants of forest on your property. Failing that, try to build a new patch of forest made up of compatible species that would have been there if development had not occurred.

Florida's Arbor Day

While most of the country celebrates Arbor Day in April, both Florida and Louisiana celebrate Arbor Day the third Friday in January. It’s much better to plant a tree now because deciduous trees are dormant and others are less active, so they can withstand the shock of transplanting better. One thing to keep in mind is that January is right in the middle of our 7-month dry season. Extra irrigation over and above the rain and general landscape irrigation will be needed until the trees become established.  Larger trees take longer, so if you are not willing or able to provide all that extra water for several months and in dry periods for a couple of years, purchase smaller specimens.

We've written about Arbor Day before on this blog. See Florida's Arbor Day: the third Friday in January for Arbor Day history and more information trees and their care. Also read When you plant a tree, you believe in the future that we posted just before the world was predicted to end. Spoiler alert: It didn't end because so many people planted trees. Isn't that great? Thanks for doing your part.

Live oaks (Quercus virginiana) and resurrection ferns (Pleopeltis polypodioides var. michauxiana) provide beauty and habitat for for other plants and many animals.
So celebrate with us and plant a tree.  Mother Nature will thank you.

Written and posted by Ginny Stibolt
Photos are by Ginny Stibolt


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