Posted by: Sandra Garland
How often have you heard the saying, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago?” We know about this in Old Ottawa South, because we did plant trees 20 years ago – the forest around the dike at Brewer Pond, many of the beautiful trees at Windsor Park, and Brighton Beach Park, and quite a few on private property – and we love what they’ve become.
But that was before we knew about climate change. We need to plant more, lots more. Why? Because trees breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Without them (and other plants), we would not have the air we need to live. They also moderate the temperature. In the woods it’s warmer in winter and cooler in summer. They are the infrastructure of our ecosystem, its skeleton. They provide food and shelter for thousands of creatures that form the web we are part of. And trees are good for our well-being.
Trees can even save you money by reducing heating and cooling costs. Plant conifers on the north side of your house to blanket it against cold winds in winter. Plant deciduous trees on the south side to let in warming sun in winter, but provide cool shade when their leaves grow back in summer.
The city is aiming at 40% canopy cover in Ottawa – for a healthy population and to mitigate some of the effects of climate change. But they have already given up on urban neighbourhoods like ours. Intensified housing means that many of our lots can no longer accommodate a tree. Can we find room in public spaces to reach 40% and still leave the open space we need to walk and play?
Did you know that if you have space in your front yard, the city will give you a tree? They’ll even plant it for you. All you have to do is take care of it. Water it often in the first 3 years, protect it from damage, and call the city for help if it bumps into hydro lines or buildings. Google “Ottawa tree planting” to see the options.
In your backyard, you are free to plant anything you like. To make the choice easier, the Glebe Environment Committee recently created a “decision tree” based on the amount of space you have and soil and moisture conditions.
The trees listed in the diagram are native to our area. Native trees are best as they are already adapted to local growing conditions. But the climate is changing, you say? A large population of native trees contains a diverse enough gene pool to adapt to change. Not only are native trees comfortable here, they are also recognized and used by our local birds, mammals, and insects, including pollinators.
Where can you find these native tree species? Nurseries often sell only hybrids, which may be fine, but are sometimes missing the characteristics that make them useful to local wildlife. The non-profit Ferguson Forest Tree Nursery in Kemptville grows a variety of native species; sign up for their newsletter to find out when they will be open to the public this spring. Ritchies has been able to source native trees and shrubs when I ask. Lobby your favourite nursery to stock native species.
In 20 years, will you be standing in your yard or park with your children, saying, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago?” Because your children are going to say, “Why didn’t you?” Their 20 years ago is now. Plant a tree.
We’d love to hear from you – the Glebe Environment Committee has produced a decision tree for conifers as well. Email to ask for a copy of it or the deciduous tree choices at firstname.lastname@example.org. This summer, the Enviro Crew’s Tree Team will be looking for places to plant new trees; they can help you acquire and plant a tree for your yard.
Sandy Garland is a long-time resident of Old Ottawa South and a member of the Enviro Crew of OOS.
Featured in the March 2022 OSCAR.
This tree diagram is reproduced with permission from its creator, Della Wilkinson, chair of the Glebe Environment Committee.
No matter what the size of your yard or the quality of your soil, there’s a native tree species that is suitable for the space. The tree species in the diagram are those listed in the Ontario Tree Atlas; space requirements according to Champlain Park’s Planting Trees in Small Spaces; other information from Tree Canadensis and the City of Ottawa’s Tree Planting Program.