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Into the Garden: Goodbye to the old trees, hello to the new

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At my house, we lost a lot of trees during the late-June/early-July storms. (Not to mention the roof, the ceiling in one room due to water damage, and lots of sleep ... but our story isn't any different from that of anyone else who lived through those 100-degree days without power!)

A couple of the trees that fell were 20-plus-year-old conifers, so I've been researching what trees I'll plant in their places. I'll have to find these trees locally, as it would be cost-prohibitive to have them shipped here. I plan to talk to my local garden centers to see if they can help me get the trees I want to plant.

A blue Douglas fir that's fast-growing and conical with thick, grooved, corky, gray-brown bark and aromatic blue-green leaves might replace the spruce tree that fell.

Our river birch, planted in the mid-1990s, was just beautiful. The storm took out one of the main trunks and left the rest scraggly. I've been looking at a white-barked Himalayan birch as a replacement. If I can find one with a single trunk, it will be a sturdier tree, yet it has the open-branched look and the bright white bark similar to the river birch. It grows tall -- 50 feet -- so it might be too big for our site.

The paperbark maple is a deciduous, spreading tree with striking peeling, orange-brown bark; the leaves turn red and orange in autumn. It can be found as a single-trunk tree that might fit the spot. Its estimated height is under 30 feet.

When to replant

Janie Carpenter, a landscape designer and certified horticulturalist for Creation Gardens (affiliated with G and G Nursery) in Lesage said the best time to replant is fall, but if you're impatient, you'll just have to do more work.

"We plant every day -- but you have to water a lot. The best time, of course, is fall," Carpenter said.

She said smaller trees that were damaged are more likely to survive the ravages of the storms.

"Anything over 50 percent damage probably can't be saved, but a smaller or newer tree can bounce back by themselves as long as the bark isn't busted up on the main trunk.

"Trees are kinda like us -- they get a cut or something and they heal back quickly," Carpenter said.

Topping the trees is not the answer.

"That's a big no-no -- it makes it very weak, susceptible to diseases. The tree won't have enough leaves on it to support the root system."

Value of trees

In a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, experts determined the value of trees to a homeowner or community. The "Midwest Community Tree Guide" determined the annual benefits and costs over a 40-year planning horizon for newly planted trees in three residential yard locations (east, south and west of the residence) and a public street side or park location. Prices were assigned to each cost (e.g., planting, pruning, removal, irrigation, infrastructure repair, liability) and benefit (e.g., heating/cooling energy savings, air-pollutant mitigation, storm water-runoff reduction) through direct estimation and implied valuation of benefits as environmental externalities. This approach made it possible to estimate the net benefits of plantings in "typical" locations and with "typical" tree species.

The average annual net benefits (benefits minus costs) per tree increased with mature tree size:

  • $3 to $15 for a small tree
  • $4 to $34 for a medium tree
  • $58 to $76 for a large tree.
  • The findings suggest that average annual net benefits from large trees, like the red oak and hackberry, can be substantially greater than those from small trees like crabapple. Average annual net benefits for the small, medium and large public trees were $4, $16 and $58, respectively. The largest average annual net benefits, however, stemmed from yard trees opposite the west-facing wall of a house: $15, $34 and $76 for small, medium and large trees, respectively.

    The large residential tree opposite a west house wall produced a net annual benefit of $123 at year 40. In the same location, 40 years after planting, the red oak and crabapple produced annual net benefits of $58 and $45.

    Net benefits for the yard tree opposite a west house wall increased with size when summed over the entire 40-year period:

  • $600 for a small tree
  • $1,360 for a medium tree
  • $3,040 for a large tree
  • Twenty years after planting, annual net benefits for a yard tree located west of a home were $87 for a large tree, $45 for a medium tree and $20 for a small tree. For a large hackberry 20 years after planting, the total value of environmental benefits alone ($77) was five times greater than the annual costs ($15). Similarly, environmental benefits totaled $46 and $24 for the red oak and crabapple, while tree-care costs were substantially less, $13 and $8, respectively.

    Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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