What Good Are Trees Anyway?
Note: This blog is was inspired by an article in the Homes section of Tampa Bay Times, so while the focus is on homeowners, the information is relevant to everyone!
As a homeowner (which I cannot relate), trees can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. I’m here to convince you that trees can be your best friend, but it takes some work, like all friendships do. Perhaps you recently paid thousands of dollars to have a tree removed from your property or had to hire a tree crew to trim large branches from hanging over your roof to satisfy your homeowner’s insurance. These occasionally pocket-burning, hair-pulling experiences might put you in the “worst nightmare” category and rightfully so. But let’s see if we can get you to the “best friend” category.
Trees provide so many benefits to us, our soils, our waters, our air, our wildlife, the list goes on. When we talk about the benefits trees provide to us, one way we can look at them is through the lens of something called ecosystem services. Let’s focus on benefits trees provide to homes and to you as a homeowner.
1. Reduce energy costs
2. Increase the value of your home (not that you need that right now 😉)
3. Reduce flood risk
4. Improve mental health
If you are outside in the summer months, it’s very likely you are seeking shade. We all know why we seek shade, but did you know that temperatures can be as much as 20⁰F cooler than unshaded places? Trees can also result in home cooling savings by 27 to 42%, depending on tree species, health, location, and season. So not only do trees save you from sweating, they can save you money on your electric bill too. As for shade, it’s best to place trees on the south, east or west side of the house so shade is cast on your home during the hottest times of the day and year. I would be remiss if I didn’t say there is a lot to consider before you plant a tree, and UF/IFAS Extension is here to help if you have questions.
When it comes to property value, several studies have shown an increase in property value anywhere from three to 20 percent simply due to the presence of healthy, mature trees on the property. Personally, I’m not even looking at a house unless there are mature trees on the property, though I know I’m slightly biased 😉
Now for flood risk you might be wondering what trees have to do with flooding. Well, remember, trees need water to survive and trees (depending on species) can absorb A LOT of water. Let’s take one of our more common tree species for example, a live oak. In one year, a mature live oak tree can intercept 36,205 gallons of stormwater runoff! Their massive tree canopy helps to intercept and hold rain on the leaves, branches and bark, the expansive root system sucks up tons of water, and bonus, all of this helps reduce soil erosion. Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself!
Still not convinced trees are your best friend? Just look at one. It can improve your mental health. Five minutes of visual exposure to a setting with trees can result in significant changes to blood pressure and muscle tension, creating a less stressed version of you . And dare I say, “take a deep breath” while you’re at it because that same live oak tree does a great job intercepting air pollutants like ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Oh, and they are great oxygen factories too.
If you want to learn more about the value and importance of trees, check out my “Naturally Florida” podcast episode, Trees and People: An intro to urban forestry or participate in one of many Florida Arbor Day events. Florida Arbor Day is celebrated on the third Friday in January every year, and many cities and counties will offer free tree giveaways. I have a whole line-up of programs on January 22 you can find at www.brookercreekpreserve.org, and Pinellas County will be celebrating on Saturday, January 22 from 10am-2pm at John S. Taylor Park in Largo.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb
Sources: Akbari, H., D. Kurn, et al. 1997. Peak power and cooling energy savings of shade trees. Energy and Buildings 25:139–148. http://www.treebenefits.com/calculator/ReturnValues.cfm?climatezone=Central%20Florida https://www.arborday.org/trees/benefits.cfm