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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Planting Native Trees

Air Date: Week of

There's a new bumper stickers that says: "Trees are the Answer." The idea is to make us all aware of how important planting trees is to the environment. But, commentator Andy Wasowski says that while the basic thought is right, the methods can be very wrong. Mr. Wasowski lives in northern New Mexico surrounded by native Ponderosa Pines. He is co-author of "Gardening with Native Plants of the South" and "Native Gardens of Dry Climates".


KNOY: In your travels these days, you may have noticed a bumper sticker that says, "Trees are the Answer." The idea is to make us all aware of how important planting trees is to the environment. But commentator Andy Wasowski says that while the basic premise is right, the methods can be very wrong.

WASOWSKI: The plant-a-tree movement is vast, well-organized, and necessary, if for no other reason than that every year developers and the logging industry take a heavy toll on our tree population. Go to an environmental conference, an Earth Day gathering or an Arbor Day celebration, and at least one speaker is addressing the issue of reforestation. There's also usually a booth nearby where you're encouraged to adopt a tree or 2 for your yard. All you have to do is promise to plant these trees and give them lots of TLC.

So what's wrong with this admittedly noble effort? Well, just this. My wife and I once received a mailing from a plant-a-tree group. In it we were offered a choice of 10 saplings. Seven were unsuited to the soil and climate where we lived and would ultimately die. Now, this organization either assumed homeowners would know which trees to reject and which to use, or maybe they just didn't think it mattered.

Well, it does. For instance, a conifer that lives in acid soil would be totally wrong for a setting with alkaline soil, yet I've seen well-meaning groups, including an arboretum that should have known better, distributing acid-loving pines in totally unsuitable area. And swamp chestnut oaks in areas too dry to support them.

Then there are the trees that seem to be right and that they are the correct species for a region, but because they're genetically adapted to another and very different part of the country, they're wrong for your growing conditions. For example, a burr oak is native in both Texas and Vermont, but the one genetically suited to Vermont winters will not be thrilled with Texas summers and vice versa. To successfully reforest America, we can't be planting any old tree any old place. That just creates new problems. That bumper sticker needs to be revised. It should read, "Native Trees are the Answer."

KNOY: Commentator Andy Wasowski lives in northern New Mexico, surrounded by native pinons and ponderosa pines. He's coauthor of Gardening with Native Plants of the South and Native Gardens of Dry Climates.



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