Gardening Sustainability

How Much is a Tree Worth?

How Much is a Tree Worth?

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

On a hot afternoon at our Ladue store a couple of weeks ago, we had a power outage that affected our store and a lot of the surrounding neighborhoods. The next afternoon at my condo my neighborhood had the first power outage I’ve experienced in my 14 years living there. According to updates from an Alderman in my city who was in contact with Ameren Missouri, there was extra load on some stations due to storm damage from a couple of days earlier. The combination of the extra demand with the heat was too much for some of the stations to handle. Someone more technical than me can probably explain it better or understand it better, but what I get from this is that hot temperatures can stress an already stressed system to the point of failure. This is a good time to reflect on a group of living things that often seem so permanent and indestructible that we sometimes don’t give them the respect and care that they deserve – trees!

When we are managing our landscapes or contracting for services, we have to make decisions about how much money to invest in trees. How much do we want to spend to buy the specimens? How much effort do we want to put in selecting, planting, establishing and maintaining the tree? Should we spend the money to get it pruned correctly by an expert or to treat a disease or pest? If we decide we don’t want it, how much will it cost to remove?

Those decisions will become easier to make if you know the actual economic benefit of your tree. According the Treekeepers Comprehensive Introductory Course handbook, “planted in the proper location, trees can reduce energy demand by as much as 50%”. The recent power outages I experienced occurred at approximately 3:15 pm and 5:30 pm respectively. Those are often very hot times of the day so it seems likely that air conditioning was one of the factors contributing to the high demand. You will notice that the air is noticeably cooler in the vicinity of trees – that is because water evaporates from the leaves of trees and the change from water to water vapor uses up heat energy from the air.

Just for fun, I ran a test on an oak tree that is at the corner of my condo to see what the value of it is in hard cash terms. I used a really useful tool called i-Tree Design. Here is a screenshot showing some of the benefits of this tree over a 10 year period.

Monetary value of a large oak tree

You can run tests using your own property as an example with different sizes and species of trees. The tool will even show you spots on your property where trees will have the most and least benefit. It’s lots of fun and very enlightening!

Out of curiosity I ran a calculation on the Rose of Sharon tree I planted near my deck. According to the i-Tree Design tool, the economic value of that tree is $174 over 10 years. Maybe that doesn’t sound impressive at first, but consider that the tree itself was free – it came from a seedling that I transplanted from my parents’ yard. I spent about five minutes planting it and when it was tiny I probably watered it a few extra times during the first couple of weeks. It has required little care since then – the only thing I remember doing with it is mulching it and weeding out it’s extra seedlings that I didn’t want. The tree is small enough that I could remove it myself for no cost if it came to that. Economic benefits are not even the reason I planted the tree in the first place – I wanted to look at the beautiful flowers and enjoy watching the wildlife that I knew would come to feed on the flowers and seeds. It attracts a steady parade of butterflies, hummingbirds, finches, other birds and various bee species for months on end. If I had PAID $174 for the tree I probably would consider it money well spent.

If you plant the right tree in the right place and care for it correctly, you will cut down your energy usage. You also may help reduce the demand on electrical equipment in your neighborhood and prevent power outages. A power outage is often just a minor inconvenience, but under certain circumstances and to vulnerable people an outage can be costly and dangerous. If you plant trees and invest in their establishment and care, it is possible for your tree investment to pay for itself and make life better for your community at the same time. All you need is the right information – I hope the resources I’m sharing will help you to get it.

iTree Design Application

Forest ReLeaf of Missouri

Missouri Community Forestry Council Tree Care Blog

Missouri Department of Conservation Tree Care Videos and Documents

Gardening Lawns

Coping With Dry Autumn Conditions

Coping With Dry Autumn Conditions

by Tim Wittmaier

Fall is normally a good time to work in the garden. The weather is cooler than normal which is easier to work in but forecasts call for warmer weather to return for awhile. We keep getting predictions for rain which so far has not come.

Warm water temperatures have made this year’s hurricane season especially bad in the South and some of those folks have suffered from too much water. Many plants in the St. Louis area are suffering from lack of moisture though some spots have been lucky with rain. The ground is generally very dry. There is more work that could be done right now if it was not so dry.

For example, lawn care. Normally this is the best time to seed a lawn. This year even irrigated lawns are struggling because the ground is so hard and compacted. The water cost of irrigating a lawn is a problem too.

If you decide to plant, thatch, aerate, feed and seed. Get the seed 1/4 inch 1/2 deep in the soil by raking. If you wait too late to seed the cold could slow down germination. The normal window is 45 days starting around September 1st but can be extended when the weather is warmer than normal.

A lot of zoysia lawns are suffering this year from excessive thatch. It’s important to to remove thatch periodically to avoid problems. Excessive thatch can kill your grass and necessitate starting over with a new planting.

Most ornamental plants in our lawns and gardens are shallow rooted. Check your irrigation system to see if it’s watering the right areas and make sure you are not wasting water with your system or hoses.

How can you tell if you are wasting water? Is anything broken or leaking? Are all your fittings tight? If you’re not sure if your irrigation system is set correctly, have a meeting with the company that installed it to check exactly what is being watered.

Make sure you are making the best of what water you do have. When is a good time to water? Morning is the best, but if you don’t have a choice try not to irrigate after 7 pm. If you have an automatic system or timers, try a 3:30 am – 5:30 am regimen – I have had success with that schedule. If you can’t water at the ideal time, don’t skip it because the plants need it. You may find that your lawn and plants need daily watering for 20 minutes per session. Depending on your conditions 40 minutes every other day works for some. Cool the water from your hose before putting on plants so you don’t scald them.

This is also a good time to prune and feed perennials. If your perennials don’t look good they will probably perk up when it gets more moist. Normally this a good time to divide perennials but this year I would hold off as long as it stays dry.

Trees and shrubs are not easy to keep alive in dry fall conditions. October is better for planting when September is very dry. Perennial flowers can be planted now. They will need daily watering for 10-14 days to get established. Container plantings are doing well now as long as they get watered.

We are probably going to lose a lot of mature trees to drought this year. A wet spring followed by drought is very hard on plants. The best preventative is selection so there may not be much you can do now. If you have a valuable tree that is important to you with unusual symptoms have an arborist take a look at it.


Tim’s Tips – Successful planting and care of trees

Tim’s Tips – Successful planting and care of trees

by Tim Wittmaier

1. Make sure the tree you’re planting is suitable for the conditions.

Ask yourself:

  • Is this tree right for this zone?
  • How much sunlight does it need?
  • What is the mature size of the tree? Does it have enough room to grow?
  • Is the soil type suitable?
  • Can I provide the right amount of water?
  • Does the site have good drainage? If not, can this tree tolerate sitting in water?

2. Apply 2-4 inches of mulch or compost in at least a 3 foot in diameter circle around the tree. Keep mulch 4″ away from the bark and don’t make a mulch volcano – aim for a donut shape rather than a volcano shape. You can mulch all the way out to the drip line or beyond if you want to – this will reduce competition from grasses or other plants and help the tree grow faster.

3. When planting the tree, the top of the root ball should be planted 4″ above the ground, but no more. Dig the hole at least twice as wide as it is deep.

4. If the root ball is wrapped in burlap that has been treated to not decompose or is synthetic, remove the burlap. Otherwise loosen burlap from around the trunk, and spread out but do not remove. Cover burlap with soil or mulch so it does not wick moisture away.

5. Cut all ropes around the root ball, natural or synthetic.

6. When transporting a tree in the bed of a truck or trailer, cover it with a tarp so that it doesn’t get dried out. Don’t let the tree sit under a tarp in the sun for an extended time. Don’t grab the trunk to lift up the root ball.

7. If planting a tree susceptible to sun scald, protect it by wrapping the trunk with a light colored wrap or painting it white with latex paint.

8. Protect the trunks of small trees from rabbits and deer.

9. Don’t hit the trunk with weed eaters or lawn mowers. Mulch can help make sure machinery doesn’t get too close.

10. Be aware of what pests and diseases your tree is susceptible to and treat if necessary.

11. Get a soil test and feed your tree with fertilizer if necessary. Don’t use more chemical fertilizer than you need. An excess of organic fertilizer is unlikely to do any harm.

12. Don’t prune without a specific purpose in mind and follow the pruning timing and techniques best for the tree species you have. Pruning is not the same for all trees and every tree doesn’t necessarily need it. Do prune out dead wood and look for structural problems that need correcting – much easier to do when the tree is small.


A Couple of Common Problems with Trees

A Couple of Common Problems with Trees

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

A Couple of Common Problems with Trees

The two trees in the picture above have some issues. The one on the left was planted in early winter in my neighborhood. That in itself is not a problem – hardy woody plants and perennials can be transplanted any time in winter that the soil is workable – that is, not frozen and not too wet. This winter there have been times when the soil has been frozen but certainly not continuously and there were some good opportunities for planting. The trouble lies in the gap you see between the original root ball and the side of the new planting hole. A freezing spell has pushed the root ball partly out of the hole. This is called “frost heaving”. It’s not good for the root flare of the tree to be too much higher than the surrounding soil, though having it a little too high is better than having it too deep. The root flare is the topmost point where roots start to flare out from the trunk. There is also an air pocket around the roots which can hinder root growth, moisture uptake and tree stability. A good course of action for this tree would be to try to push the root ball back in the hole if possible (while not compacting dirt too much), to fill any gaps with dirt and to apply 2 to 3″ of mulch around the tree to regulate temperature extremes around the planting and retain moisture. Moisture level is especially important in the first 2-3 years after planting. If mulching isn’t done correctly however it could cause the problem that the second tree on the right is suffering from.

The tree on the right is in front of my bedroom window. I’ve lived in my condo for 12 years and ever since I moved in this tree has had a “mulch volcano” around it. Mulch around a tree should not touch the tree trunk or be piled up around the trunk. This tree produces beautiful white flowers in the spring and I will miss it if it has to be removed. It might be doomed because during this past year the bark has been cracking and peeling off, a sign that it’s dying. Am I certain that the “mulch volcano” caused whatever the problem is? Not 100% because the disease has not been diagnosed, but since this practice is well known to cause death to the inner bark layer (cambium) or cause myriad other problems I recommend you avoid it. Trees can be mulched all the way out to the drip line or beyond if you want, and if you do that they may grow up to three times faster because they won’t have so much vegetation (like grass) to compete with for nutrients. The mulch must not touch the trunk – keep mulch several inches away and make your mulch resemble a donut rather than a volcano!

I hope you can protect your investment in trees by avoiding these commonly occurring issues!