Branch Out! Build a better community through trees

By Kathy Vogeltanz
Atlanta, GA (August 1, 2010)- There’s no easier way to improve a property – and the environment – than by simply planting a tree. Homeowners increase their quality of life and property value with trees – and the entire neighborhood reaps the benefits.


Cheryl Kortemeier of Trees Atlanta listed out a few positive points of trees. “They capture particulate matter like dust and debris on their trunks and leaves and hold them like tiny catchers’ mitts,” she said. “Trees help slow the rate of rainwater as it falls from the sky to the ground, reducing erosion and demand on sewer systems during quick heavy rains. They also help manage the little rain we receive during drought years, so trees are literally our allies rain or shine.”
Kortemeier said that the public considers properties with trees “more attractive,” so property values are typically $2,000 more for well-treed lots. And for homeowners who live close together or near busy roadways, it’s good to know that each tree absorbs about 6 to 8 decibels of sound.
“By placing trees on the south and west sides of property, homeowners can reduce their energy and A/C costs,” added Ed Macie. An arborist and Urban Forestry consultant, Macie provides assistance to homeowners in need of help managing their shade trees. He regularly works with communities on land development plans to protect trees in neighborhoods, and he was involved with the City of Decatur’s Homeowner Shade Tree Assistance program. Macie also consults with builder/developers to save trees on construction sites around new and in-fill housing.
Compared to other metropolitan areas, Atlanta might appear to be well wooded, but Kortemeier said that’s not necessarily so. Although often referred to as “The City in the Forest,” Atlanta has lost 65 percent of its tree cover since 1975. “Atlanta was actually losing convention business because our downtown area was ‘not green enough,” she said. “Trees Atlanta initially focused on downtown and business districts like Midtown and Buckhead, eventually planting more than 20,000 trees along Atlanta streets and sidewalks and around parking lots.”
Founded in 1985 by Central Atlanta Progress, the Atlanta Commissioner of Parks, and The Junior League of Atlanta, Inc., the non-profit citizen’s group began as an urban beautification program. Trees Atlanta evolved to do much more. The group protects Atlanta’s grandest trees by helping communities preserve their green spaces and establish tree protection laws. They’ve been involved in saving Big Trees Forest Preserve in Roswell, Morningside Nature Preserve in Atlanta, Connally Nature Park in East Point, and others.
Through their “NeighborWoods” program, Tree Atlanta organizes volunteers who plant 3,000 to 4,000 trees per year in in-town neighborhoods where shade is needed most. Over the past 25 years, Trees Atlanta engaged 4,500 citizens as volunteers and planted more than 75,000 trees. The impact is incredible. “These trees are removing an average of 13 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each-that’s nearly 1,000,000 pounds of CO2 per year!” Kortemeier pointed out. “Each tree recycles $750 worth of water per year while reducing demand on municipal storm water systems and preventing erosion, so our trees provide $56,250,000 worth of water recycling benefits each year. As you can see, trees are an essential part of our infrastructure for human, environmental and economic health.”
Once property owners decide to add trees, there are some things to consider. “Before adding or planting a tree, people should think about pairing the species with the site,” Macie advised. “Be aware of the size it will reach when full grown and the space it has available to it. Watch for long-term conflicts with utilities, either underground or overhead.” He said that the next important consideration is the tree’s ecological impact on the landscape. It’s important to place it where it can do its best work for the environment – like providing shade to a lane or play area, holding soil and controlling water along a drainage ditch, or along a roadway to scrub pollutants. Finally, assess how the tree will add color and bring life to the landscape.
Kortemeier suggested that property owners organize within their neighborhood to plant trees. “Trees planted along a street create visual continuity and a sense of community,” she said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to get buy-in from all the neighbors. Homeowners occasionally think that trees will create a mess, block their view or create some other type of safety hazard. The best way to get buy-in is to focus on the positive attributes of trees.”
Property owners and neighborhood associations have several resources available to them. Arborist Ed Macie said that the Internet is a great tool for homeowners; most of the information found there is pretty reliable. However, for insect and disease diagnosis, homeowners will need to get help from someone with expertise.
The Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) supplies seedlings to Georgia landowners every year for reforestation, beautification and wildlife habitat through their Flint River Nursery in Byromville, GA. The trees are adapted to Georgia’s unique climate and soils. Though the seedling crop is predominantly slash and loblolly pines, a variety of hardwoods and other conifers are also available, such as dogwood, redbud, sweetgum, white oak, red cedar and wild plum. They also offer some shrub/perennials like crape myrtle.
Order processing begins is underway for the following planting season, which runs December through February. All seedling stock is one year from seed and sold bareroot in quantities ranging from ten to hundreds of thousands. Visit www.gatrees.org for details. The GFC recently launched an on-line network called The Georgia Grove, at www.americangrove.org/ga/.
The Georgia Urban Forest Council, www.gufc.org, is another useful resource about community trees where homeowners can learn what member groups are doing in other areas. A lot of worthwhile information is available at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website, www.caes.uga.edu/extension/. The experts at UGA’s Cooperative Extension also provide help over the phone at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.
National resources include the Alliance for Community Trees in Washington DC, www.actrees.org, and the Arbor Day Foundation, which regularly offers deals through their online store at www.arborday.org. Homeowners on a budget may want to check out www.freetreesandplants.com.
Of course, a great place to start is Trees Atlanta’s website – www.treesatlanta.org. Trees Atlanta is a member group of EarthShare of Georgia, www.earthsharega.org. “Trees Atlanta has been so successful because of the people who support the organization-our volunteers, donors and staff,” Kortemeier said. “I encourage everyone to get involved and volunteer at least once. It’s a great way to make a difference in your community, learn about Atlanta neighborhoods and meet new people. I met my husband volunteering with Trees Atlanta.”

Related Resources:

Atlanta INtown Paper- Branch Out! Build a better community through trees
Trees Atlanta