By Nancy Gaarder
Omaha, NE (September 14, 2009)- To anyone who knows the Bell family, it’s no surprise that Bob Bell sees planting trees as the perfect family tradition. After all, back in the late 1800s, his great-grandfather and grandfather planted the thousands of trees that gave their community of Bellwood, Neb., its name. Some of those trees remain today, towering catalpas, oaks and cottonwoods. One, a bur oak, has been designated a Nebraska Heritage Tree because it is the surviving specimen from a row of bur oaks that once led from the Bell family home to the general store.
“They say that when you plant a tree, you’re not going to benefit by it, but your grandchildren will,” said the 73-year-old Bell. “And that is so true. It takes a long time to grow a tree.”
That ethic of planting trees for future generations is falling by the wayside, not only in Nebraska but nationally, according to the Nebraska Forest Service, the Arbor Day Foundation, and other advocacy groups for trees. It is one of the reasons the tree canopy along streets and other public areas of many Nebraska communities has declined by nearly half since the 1970s, said Eric Berg, community forestry program leader with the Nebraska Forest Service. Disease and storms are other culprits.
“People tend to be drawn to faster-growing, flashier trees that don’t live as long,” Berg said. These include ornamental trees such as redbud, pear and crabapple and fast-growing but shorter-lived shade trees such as red maple. Berg and other foresters are calling on people to plant more long-lived shade trees. The Forest Service has launched several efforts to encourage people to plant more trees, including ReTree Nebraska, which encourages the planting of 1 million trees over 10 years, and Nine Trees for 2009, which offers guidance on trees to plant. Those efforts emphasize both diversity in species selection and better planting methods.
The Arbor Day Foundation also encourages tree planting by providing members with tree seedlings, of all types, annually. “You realize more benefits with larger trees,” said Robert Smith, staff arborist at the Arbor Day Foundation. “More shade, more value in the landscape, even more sequestration of carbon.”
Berg and Chip Murrow, community forester assistant at the Nebraska Forest Service, cited other benefits of large shade trees: They lower home and business energy bills, lengthen the lifespan of streets and sidewalks and provide relief and play space for people and animals. Trees filter air and water, reducing pollution. They beautify the landscape, making cities more livable and adding value to a property.
And now- not spring- is the best time of year to plant trees. “The soils are warmer, and roots have a chance to get well-established,” said Kathleen Cue, horticulturist for the University of Nebraska Extension Service in Sarpy and Douglas Counties. During the fall, trees naturally direct their energy toward establishing roots, but in spring, they are programmed to leaf out, said Murrow.
As a member of his community’s tree board, Bell and others recently helped the town’s young people plant a tree in the park. Showing those kids the proper way to plant a tree wasn’t just about that one tree’s survival, Bell said. “Those children, 20 to 30 years from now, are going to be the ones doing this,” he said. “We have to teach our young people to be tree lovers and to plant trees and care for them.”
Omaha World Herald- Fall is prime tree-planting time