Plant Trees For Multiple Benefits

Trees perform multiple valuable watershed services, such as anchoring stream banks and absorbing pollutants. Submitted photo

Spring is finally here! As we begin thinking about landscaping our yards, consider adding more trees and shrubs to your yard, especially native trees and shrubs. Trees and shrubs add beauty, comfort and value to your yard. They provide homes and food for a variety of wildlife. Evergreens placed on the west and northwest side of your home in your yard can serve as a windbreak for cold winter winds, reducing your winter fuel bills. Deciduous shade trees can reduce the summer temperature of your yard and home by several degrees, making your yard enjoyable on hot summer days and reducing or eliminating the need for air conditioning in your home. Planting trees and shrubs between septic leach fields and road ditches and between road ditches and water courses is a good way to improve water quality. The roots of woody plants can intercept nutrients and pollutants and remove them from the shallow ground waters running downhill to the nearest watercourse. It’s better to feed trees with your septic effluent than the algae and plants in downstream creeks and lakes! Be careful when planting to choose species that will not send tenacious roots a considerable distance and clog your leach field.

Do you notice how many tree saplings sprout in your lawn every spring? When we clear forests and maintain lawns in our area of western New York, we must do battle to keep our yards from returning to forest. Instead of fighting the ecology of forest succession which is insistent on returning your yard to forest, why not allow it? Why help them grow? Why plant as many trees as possible in your yard or business property? There are innumerable benefits. First, starting with the selfish personal benefits, trees add thousands of dollars to the value of your property. The abundance of mature trees is one of the reasons that the community of Chautauqua Institution is so appealing. Mature trees provide shade for your home, business and parking lots and make living and working more comfortable. In fact, computer simulations using standard building and tree configurations for cities across the U.S. indicate that shade from a single well-placed, mature tree (about 25-ft crown diameter) reduces annual air conditioning use 2 to 8 percent and peak cooling demand 2 to 10 percent ( The ambient air temperature difference between an urban heat island and a vegetated area can be as much as 2 to 10 degrees F. The temperature measured directly above man-made surfaces can be as much as 25 degrees F hotter than the air temperature beneath a forested area Akbari et. al., 1992; Simpson and McPherson, 1996). Business districts with ample trees are more attractive to shoppers because they look better, are more pleasing to patrons and are cooler and more comfortable during the summer.

Trees make us feel better. Several studies indicate that viewing a treed setting can have a calming effect after stressful incidents, and treed neighborhoods provide multiple psychological benefits to their residents (

Trees and shrubs also control soil erosion in two ways. First, their branches and foliage absorb and deflect the energy of drops before they reach the ground. Second, their roots hold the soil in place very effectively. It is very important to leave streamside and lakeshore trees and shrubs in place to avoid soil erosion when developing waterfront lots.

How can you begin returning your yard to forest? You can assist the growth of wild saplings with the purchase and installation of tree tubes to protect them from rabbits, deer and rodents. You can obtain the assistance of local nurseries to select appropriate native trees to plant for your property’s soil conditions.

Some good sources for more information include The USDA Agroforestry Center website at, which has an excellent “Working Trees for Water Quality” publication, and American Forests at CWC has lists of native trees on its website at Want a conservationist to visit your yard? Contact the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy at 664-2166. This spring, please grow more trees and enjoy them!

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. Visit for more information on landscaping, land conservation, upcoming events and membership.