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Urban Trees make a difference across the Nation.  Over the next 50 weeks, we will be sharing one story from each state.  We'll start with Alabama.

ALABAMA
Alabama Tree Recovery – Offering Hope and Restoration for Tornado Victims

Many homeowners in Alabama can now look out their windows or down their city lanes, and see small trees growing toward a much fairer leaf-adorned sky. However, they remember the darker days, the devastating winds and toppling trees. The Alabama Tree Recovery Campaign is a story of restoration and hope, of many volunteers and organizations working together to replace trees torn and destroyed by violent winds.
In the months following April 2011 when dozens of tornados ripped across Alabama, the Alabama Forestry Commission joined forces with the Arbor Day Foundation to begin a multi-year, large-scale initiative to restore trees to the stricken communities. Through the Campaign, over 60 communities in 24 counties received seedlings and assistance in replanting their lost urban forest. After its third and final year of distribution and planting, more than 85,000 native tree seedlings of more wind resistant species will be in the ground, growing to replace those lost to catastrophic winds.
Although Alabama Forestry Commission employees and Arbor Day members delivered the seedlings, the number of trees would not have been planted without countless local volunteers and homeowners who applied their own sweat equity and learned the proper way to locate and plant trees. The campaign was made possible by financial contributions from individuals, private foundations, and corporate sponsors across the nation and globe including Alabama Power Foundation, Apache Corporation, Australia-based Cotton On Foundation, Daniel Foundation of Alabama, Davey Tree Expert Company, FedEx, NASCAR, and Protective Life Insurance.
In the words of one resident, “The outpouring of volunteer energy following the storm needed to be matched by an outpouring of goods and ideas. One such match was certainly the Alabama Tree Recovery Campaign. In addition to local donations, [it] helped provide the first signs of hope to our area. I describe the transformation of Tuscaloosa as running from devastation immediately following the storm, to desolation as the debris was removed and the loss and emptiness became more fully apparent. The arrival of new trees into yards where houses were being rebuilt and onto lots where the future was, and even now may remain uncertain, brought back dreams and hope…. The trees symbolize perfectly the progress we make as a society to create vast and wonderful improvements to our lives, a process which takes vision and work over time. I appreciate the resources the Tree Recovery Campaign has provided to the process.”
Another resident noted, “It was remarkable to hear the many associations that people had with their trees. They would say how they miss the shade their trees gave during the summer, how much hotter their homes are and how much more expensive it is for them to run the air conditioner. ... How they missed the birds and wildlife that used to come to their yard, but they haven’t seen after the storms. How they were surprised at how much more water runs off their property and practically floods their streets, and how fast the rain water flows and washes away areas of their yard and driveway. It was amazing to hear the many memories people had associated with their trees and their emotional ties to those trees: kids playing and climbing on them, feeders and art hanging from them, photos of families (generations, even) that were taken underneath them.”
While the cleanup and rebuilding in these communities will continue for years to come, the opportunity to support the Alabama Tree Recovery Campaign remains. For every dollar donated, a seedling will be added to those already planted and help in the healing process.

For more information: www.forestry.alabama.gov/TreeRecoveryCampaign.aspx

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Paying for Green Infrastructure

Getting to Green: Paying for Green Infrastructure, Finance  Options and Resources for Local Decision-Makers summarizes various funding sources that can be used to support stormwater management programs or finance individual projects.  Each type of funding source is illustrated by several municipal programs and contains a list of additional resources.  A comparative matrix is included which describes  the advantages and disadvantages of the various funding sources.

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Tree Recompense & Developing Differently

Recompense in most tree ordinances are gravely understated. The recompense for the removal of five trees on a recently permitted one acre construction site was $5000. The five trees happened to be healthy white oaks, one with a diameter of 59 inches, with potential life spans of hundreds of more years.  The ecosystem benefits (green house gas mitigation, air quality improvements, and storm water interception) using i-tree averages more than $1500 per tree annually. That would be $7.5K annually in perpetuity for the life of the trees. Moreover, using the Guide for Plant Appraisal-9th Edition and applying the trunk formula method, commonly used to appraise the monetary value of trees considered too large to be replaced with nursery or field grown stock, the 59 inch white oak alone would be valued at $70,977.00. My point being that a $5000 recompense is ridiculous. I equate it to going to your bank and depositing $1000 and then the next day asking for $70,000 saying you are entitled to the 125 years of compound interest in one day.

The point of recompense for me, is to encourage alternative designs that work around trees. Some municipalities have adopted conservation overlay districts allowing more flexibility on setbacks and building height allowing more open space in exchanged for denser development. I have also witnessed these districts misapplied. Ultimately, to build with trees we need to develop differently. Banks want to finance the same cookie cutter approach but often that approach comes at the expense of the land and trees. I believe demand is out there for designs that work with nature and not against it. To do this, we need a recompense that reflects more the cost of the loss than is currently being applied. By readjusting recompense to reflect the true cost of trees we better balance the need to live with nature in urban areas with the need to build new homes. 

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The Jewish New Year of the Trees is celebrated on February 4th.

This Jewish Arbor Day falls in the middle of the Jewish month of Shvat, the 15th day of the month. Today, this holiday is often celebrated by planting saplings and also by participating in a seder-meal in which the produce of trees, including fruits and nuts, are eaten.

The “My Jewish Learning” website provides this information: “Planting a tree–a concrete, practical act–has represented hope since ancient times. On Tu Bishvat in Palestine, trees were planted for children born during the previous year: for a boy, a cedar, with the wish that the child would grow to be tall and upright, for a girl, a cypress, which was graceful and fragrant. Later, branches from the cypress and cedar of a bride and groom were used to make the huppah (canopy) for their wedding ceremony. The planting was associated with two of the most important times in an individual’s life, birth and marriage, two occasions when we concentrate on the possibilities for the future.”

Here’s a link to another article about the holiday.
By Susan Larson, Gwinnett Daily Post: Putting down roots for a green history month.

To plant a tree in Israel, go to the Jewish National Fund at jnf.org.

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Trees Win


Last week the trees won for the first time in my 16 years advocating for them. A small but focused group has been working to protect healthy existing significant trees in new developments. As the economy has picked up more and more large healthy trees are being destroyed as single lots are subdivided into many lots or an old home is demoed to build a bigger home on a smaller lot. Typically, little consideration has been given to healthy significant trees as they require extra consideration when building around them. They also interfere with changing the grade on the site. They ironically interfere with storm water detention ponds. I say ironically because, as we know trees intercept and transpire water, and they are being replaced by the antiquated and expensive detention strategy. Most tree ordinances allow their removal in exchange for replants that could take 100s of years to come close to the benefits of the trees removed.

However, for the first time to my recollection, a development was temporarily stopped in its tracks for 7 large white oaks on 1 acre. The local tree commission voted that the project be deferred for 120 days for time to consult with the legal department and/or submission of a more environmentally sensitive design. While only a temporary victory, the small group hopes to pursue alternatives that will accommodate the trees and a portion of the development. The developer was not happy, and is appealing the decision. The small group will also pursue that.

The trees were originally in the backyard of a single family home. It was later purchased by investors and subdivided into 11 lots by building a street with a col de sac  down the middle of the property. A detention pond was built in the back which from a land use perspective is like two more houses being built. In the plan presented, all but two of the trees were slated for removal including a champion tree 59 inch white oak. The fee for removal of the five trees was $5000.00 which could be fulfilled by planting trees back on the property equal to that amount.

What made the difference in this case? First, the trees had representation from an attorney. Typically the trees cannot afford an attorney as their public benefit is spread over many people, and those interests are not usually coordinated. Developers almost always have an attorney. Second, the trees had a good argument. In this case, while the developer met the detail of the ordinance (paid $5000), they did not meet the intent, which is stated under the purpose of this ordinance as: "To protect environmentally sensitive areas." An arborist was hired to present the benefits of the these particular trees and uniqueness as a sensitive environmental area concluding: "This stand of white oaks is both unique and healthy in its current state. Its most important tree, the 59-inch champion, has a potential life span of 100’s of years if left undisturbed. The other, younger white oaks are all in excellent condition and in the prime of their lives."

Much of the urban forest has been destroyed in similar boom economies, but as we recognize the important benefits of larger trees and the near impossibility to replace them at a time when they are most needed, this case might be a sign of the times. A time where development works with large existing healthy trees balancing the needs of development with the benefits of sensitive and irreplaceable natural resources.

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Press Release Contact: Michelle Sutton, City Trees Editor: citytreeseditor@gmail.com

The Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA), comprised of urban forestry professionals worldwide, has chosen yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) as its 2015 Urban Tree of the Year.

The yearly selection must be adaptable to some harsh growing conditions and have strong ornamental traits. It is often a species or cultivar considered underutilized by urban foresters. The Tree of the Year program has been running for 19 years, and recent honorees include ‘Vanessa’ parrotia (2014), live oak (2013), Accolade elm (2012), and goldenraintree (2011).

Columbia, Missouri Natural Resources Supervisor Brett O’Brien says, “Remarkably adaptable to our state’s weather and site conditions, yellowwood is a tree which is not particularly rare but in my opinion is certainly not planted in our area nearly enough. It could be that it is not popularized because in un-irrigated turf areas it’s apt to be a little slow; in my experience I have found that in landscape beds or irrigated areas it grows fairly quickly.”

Indeed, the consensus is that yellowwood does well in a variety of urban conditions so long as it gets adequate water. It’s best used in parks, wide tree lawns, or, with pruning, in narrow tree lawns. Yellowwood is hardy in Zones 4a to 8b and is native to East North America. It is a medium-maturing tree in the legume family that matures at 30-50 feet tall and 40 to 55 feet wide. It can handle high soil pH (up to 8.2) and is considered relatively pest free. Cornell’s Urban Horticulture Institute says yellowwood is easy to transplant B&B or under 2-inch caliper bare root.

This tree has elegant year-round beauty. O’Brien admires the “pendulous fragrant white flowers, reminiscent of wisteria” and “the smooth, elephant-grey to light brown bark of the tree’s trunk as well as the lustrous reddish-brown stems.” He says that a favorite yellowwood of his is located in downtown Columbia on the west side of a red brick building, in an unforgiving site where the tree spends the early morning in deep shade and late afternoon in blazing sunlight. Nevertheless, the yellowwood has thrived. 

O’Brien says, “Yellowwood trees admittedly have a maddening branching habit, generally doing fine until the tree is about chest height, when multiple leaders and included bark become quite common. Judicious and timely pruning can help, though at a certain point, it is probably reasonable to just accept that good branching structure is not this tree’s strong suit. Yellowwood’s other positive attributes clearly outweigh this one idiosyncrasy and I would suggest that the value and benefit this beautiful tree provides makes consideration for planting worthwhile in many urban areas.” 

A pink-flowering cultivar ‘Perkins Pink’ is available but may be challenging to find.

The SMA recognizes the underutilized and strongly ornamental yellowwood for its service to urban forests and encourages its use when matched appropriately to site and as part of a diverse urban tree inventory.

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Urban Nature as a Health Resource

Yale is conducting a conference in New Haven on the impact of our disconnection with nature.  I love how the abstract starts with 100K Years ago.

ABSTRACT
Over the past 100,000 years we have connected with the natural environment to ensure that we not only survive as a species but that we thrive and dominate. However despite our undoubted success and with rising life expectancy we have “created” a new sickness that is killing people in greater numbers than at any time in history. Non Communicable diseases have the common risk factor of chronic inflammation which is strongly associated with chronic stress. There is good empirical evidence that when we become isolated or disconnected from a supportive natural environment we become stressed. In this talk I will argue that it is our disconnection from nature that is driving this epidemic of Type II diabetes, obesity, depression etc. Our healthcare systems are not fit for purpose in tackling these diseases. Therefore to consign these diseases to history requires a revolution of new thinking, with nature at the very centre of urban design, healthcare, technology and education.

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Trees not only inhabit the soil, they have a symbiotic relationship with the microbes and fungi that live in the soil.  They also serve as anchors to the soil around us, especially in the urban environment. Well it turns out the trees are onto something.  Scientists are going where no human has gone before, into the microbes of soil. It turns out that 99% microbes can not be duplicated under usual laboratory conditions, but only in native conditions. However, one scientist has figured a way to alter the laboratory conditions to replicate the soils native environment and study some of the microbial species. One result has been the discovery of bacteria resistant antibiotics.  Below is the New York Times article discussing it.

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Ice Storm Preparation- Part Two

Time to get started with your ice storm preparation. There’s lots to do, so let’s take it in steps. There are four prime essentials for ice storm preparation.

  • Light
  • Heat
  • Electricity
  • Food

 In Part 2 we will look at the first two main categories for ice storm preparation.

 The prime essentials for ice storm preparation

Light
You don’t want to be stumbling around in the dark. Not being able to see adds to the chaos. You can break things. You can hurt yourself. And you can get overwhelmed with the sudden lifestyle change. Here’s a list of light sources you can use.

  • Candles. This is very basic. Get large candles. They last longer. Table candles work but don’t last long. However, you might have a few for candlelight dinners. Romantic touches could add a delightful ambience when everything else is stressful.
  • Lanterns. Kerosene lanterns will give you light but they are sometimes stinky. They are dangerous if tipped over. Get florescent or LED types. They come in different sizes. Get a big one for the community room. Get smaller ones for individual rooms. These lanterns last for many days. Get a spare battery for each lantern.
  • Flashlights. Everyone needs their own flashlight. If you already have flashlights, test them. How many times have you picked up a flashlight only to find it is dead? Get the flashlights corralled and test all of them. Get spare batteries for each flashlight. Buy a few extra bulbs. Maybe have a smaller flashlight in each room. How about a headlamp? These are handy because they are hands free.
  • Gas powered generators. This is the heavy-duty cure to light. We’ll talk about generators later.

Heat

It’s going to get cold. It doesn’t matter how heavily insulated you home might be, if you don’t maintain a certain level of heat it will get cold. Here’s some things you can do to prepare.

Furnace

Furnaces make heat. Most are powered by gas, some are powered by wood. One thing all furnaces have in common: fan motors. It takes a fan to move the heated air through the heating ducts to your living space. Fans are powered by electricity. If you don’t have the fans working, you don’t have an operational furnace.

 Here’s what I did. I got an electrician in and installed a receptacle box on the line that feeds the fan motor. Then the wire going to the fan motor got a plug. If the power goes out, I can unplug the fan motor line out of the receptacle and plug it into an extension cord that goes to the gas generator. My heating system is now operational again. Fan motors are small. They don’t draw lots of power. But little fans do big jobs, like keeping living spaces warm.

 Fireplaces: wood and gas

  •  Gas. You are in luck. Your gas line will not be affected by ice storms. Gas is odorless and has all the romance of logs if you have a good looking fake log arrangement.
  •  Wood. They take more work. Great if you are a woodsman at heart. Fires take a lot of tending. You have to keep an eye on them as well. Logs can roll out onto the floor. They create ash that gets on everything.

 These are great.

Wood Stoves

  • Make sure the stove pipes are clean of creosote. You don’t want a stove pipe fire. Clean once a year if you use the stove often.

 Wood

  •  Have a stack of split wood near the house. A long walk over icy surfaces with an armload of wood can lead to falls. How about a wheelbarrow? Have it turned upside down before the ice storm.
  • Have at least a half cord of split wood. A cord if you live in the North Country.
  • Use the uniform split pieces during the day. Separate a pile of “night wood” pieces. Those are those large pieces of crotch wood that don’t split well. They burn slowly. Fill the stove up with them when you retire and you’ll have a big bed of red hot coals next morning.

 Clothing

  •  Look at your cold weather clothing. Go shopping if you don’t think you have enough. Down vests are great around the house.
  • Know where your blankets are. Down blankets are the warmest. Wool blankets are also good.

 Have I missed anything? Tell us here. 

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Ice Storm Preparation- Part One

Do you live in an ice storm area? If you don’t know, do your research. Ask an old time resident if you are new to the area. “Have you ever seen an ice storm here? How often do they occur? How bad are they? When was the last bad one?” Go online and Google ice storm and add your location. Look at the history.

Start preparing for ice storms now. I’m not talking about building up a garrison or fortress. Let’s be practical. Let’s just do some common sence things that will pay off big if your lights go out. But first, let’s take a look at what you loose if a major ice storm hits your vicinity.

What You Loose

  • You loose electricity. The lines will go down. If it is a single dwelling house line, you will have to wait days. The main lines that feed the community must be repaired first.  
  • You loose transportation. This will depend on how quick the streets thaw out or serviced by county crews. If you live in the south, it could be days. Remember last year when Atlanta made national news? Got a 4-wheel drive? Forget it. You will slide off the road on the first downhill section. Got tire chains? We don’t know what they are in the south.
  • You loose the furnace pump. This is the small fan that pushes the heat through the heating ducts. You’ll still have gas, it doesn’t freeze. But it won’t do you any good without a fan to push it into the rooms. It’s like heating your house with the stovetop.
  • You’ll loose perishable food if the roads don’t clear up in a couple of days and the stores aren’t restocked from panic rush buying. Frozen food will go next a few days later.
  • You loose light.
  • You’ll loose computer use. No recharging, no desktop computer.

The Approaching Storm

First, all the news and weather stations will be shouting out the warnings. You will be lucky if you get an accurate 2-day time warning.

You won’t need a college degree to figure out bad things are about to happen. Your trees will start with a fine coating of ice. It’s really very pretty. The trees look like they are wearing a coat of shimmering crystal. The wind will blow and you’ll hear an unusual crinkling noise. How interesting. Then you’ll hear rifle shots! These are the branches starting to break. Pine branches go first, because of the larger leaf surfaces for ice to collect. The little branches sound like crackling rifle fire. Then it gets louder. The bigger branches start breaking and trunks start exploding. They sound like cannons going off.  

The light show fires into action. If it is dark, you’ll have as ringside seat to the excitement with all kinds of colorful displays. There will be bursts of purple, red, yellow, and green. A strange deep-throated boom will punctuate each display. They get louder as they get closer. These are the electrical transformers exploding. Suddenly a loud low-pitched explosion sounds nearby. You jump! Your lights flicker. Darkness.

The Lights Go Out

Everything is pitch black in the house. You fumble around looking for flashlights. If you are prepared, you grab the flashlight next to the bed. If you are unprepared, you try to remember where the flashlight is. You pray the batteries are fresh. Things are not so bad if it is daylight.

Time for a house meeting. Everyone is brought together. How many flashlights are there? Do we have enough food? Don’t open the refrigerator unless you have to! Where is the warmest room? Are your cell phones charged up? How about the laptop computer? You did charge up your tablet, yes?

In a matter of moments your usual life has changed. Life is not always predictable. Fresh food will only last a few days, if you don’t open the refrigerator door too often. Grab the frozen food quickly and shut the door! You have 5 days of food there if you are careful.

All of your communication devices die in a couple of days, if you are a frugal user. Electronic entertainment will suddenly disappear. No soothing music. Your gaming world is gone.

It’s a new world. You are now moving way from modern times. Hello primitive.   You are now in a time warp.

Has anyone been caught unprepared? Tell us about it. 

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My Sadness Condemning Trees

I am a consulting arborist. I inspect trees for health and try to look into the crystal ball to judge if a tree is safe to live under. Bad things happen when trees fall over here in Atlanta. 

Trees grow really fast here. They are huge!  Most of these big trees grow very close to homes and streets. Atlanta is the place to be if you are a tree lover. It’s the most heavily forested city in America.

There was one tree in particular I loved looking at. I would see it a couple of times each day as I drove home. I would slow down and admire it. Sometimes I would pull over. It was a giant southern red oak growing between two houses. It had a perfectly rounded crown with a spread over 80 feet across. The trunk was five feet across which would put it at about 100 years old.

My wife would slow to look at this tree as well. She is my business partner as well as a tree admirer. One day she stopped and decided to take a walk up to have a look at the base of the tree. She knocked on the door to get permission.  A mom and three little girls answered the door.

What my wife saw was a mushroom growing on one of the big root flares. She knew this particular mushroom was a bad sign. It indicated root rot. Oak trees fall over when the decay caused by this fungus attacks the anchoring roots. The mom gave my wife the phone number of the owner. A day later I went out to make the tree inspection.

I dreaded the thought at looking at this tree. This was a tree I admired. Part of me didn’t want to know the truth. The other part of me knew the tree would destroy two homes and probably kill people.

There is a scientific method to testing trees. You work off a data sheet that has you look at all of the parts of a tree. You also look at the targets, what a tree could hit if it fell. If you wanted to look inside the tree, you could drill it with a tiny drill bit that records the resistance of the wood against drill bit. The readout is on a strip of paper, much like an EKG.

I drilled four times. I was praying for the recording needle to register high on the strip of paper. I always talk to the tree when I drill. “Come on, you can make it! All right, all right! Looking good!” My spectators that day were three kids, a mom, my wife, three of my tree climbing students, and the owner of the property. They watched as I drilled different sides of the trunk. Two drillings showed signs of decay, two showed healthy wood.

“What do you think, what do you think?” Everyone wants a quick answer. Do we take it down or leave it. I was clearly in the judge’s chair. I was screwed if I made the wrong decision and left it standing. Yet it was one of the most majestic trees in Atlanta. I decided not to make a quick judgment.

I came back the next day with a fellow collogue and we drilled 5 more times. This time I drilled more times downward below the soil surface. This is where the decay lives. It’s called white rot. It turns hardwood into soft white spongy wood. These are the big anchoring roots that hold a tree up. I looked above me as I drilled. The tree was easily 50 tons in weight. The results were not good.

I had a numbing feeling of compassion as I looked at the tree one last time. I know trees aren’t supposed to have feelings. But I’ve heard them wailing for their lives when the big winds come through. I’ve seen them bow down and creak with the heavy weight of ice. Then there’s the aching moan when a two-trunk tree splits apart. Most people hear a frightening sound when trees break. I hear a goodbye.

There’s a ghost living in the spot where the tree used to live. I can see the silhouette of the tree where it used to be. I can see its cooling arms stretching out over the two houses. I see that tree in my minds eye. I don’t drive down that street any more. 

Do you have personal feelings about a tree? 

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I recently came across this resource, "Diverse Environmental Leaders National Speakers Bureau (DEL)" and wanted to share a link to the page. As you are planning urban forestry conferences in your state, perhaps one of these speakers can provide a presentation. In Georgia, we are fortunate to work with Na'Taki Osborne Jelks who has spoken about Proctor Creek and her work with the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance at several of our programs. In addition, you may be interested in following Audrey Peterman's blog at Legacy on the Land. 365 Parks in 365 Days is a real treat. I was honored to meet Audrey once and will never forget what an inspiration she was to me.

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Preparing Your Trees for the Winter

Healthy shade trees around homes provide many benefits including increasing property value by thousands of dollars, reducing soil erosion and stormwater runoff and providing a visual screen and noise buffer.

Despite these valuable benefits, homeowners may be concerned about the risk large trees provide, especially during the winter storm season in Georgia. While assessing tree risk requires training and experience by a Certified Arborist, there are some simple things you can do to get some peace of mind and determine if you need to seek a professional assessment. Start with a self-survey of each of your trees to identify the obvious risks.

English ivy and other invasive vines should be removed to help inspect the base of the tree for cavities and other fruiting bodies, such as mushrooms which indicate root disease. Cut vines and let them die back and fall off naturally. Also, prune dead, diseased and dying limbs annually. During sidewalk replacement, utility work, or other excavation, avoid cutting roots or keep root damage to a minimum.

Lastly, it’s important to plant new trees to provide benefits to future generations and keep them healthy and safe. Trees that are not properly maintained or which are stressed can quickly become major liabilities to people and property from weather phenomena. Choose the right tree for the right place. Select trees with good form at the nursery and don’t plant trees too deeply. Regular watering, mulching and ongoing tree care is important to maintain healthy trees in your yard. December through February is the best time to plant new trees in Georgia.

The Georgia Forestry Commission has a host of resources that can help you find answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about trees at Ask The Arborist and a list of arborists certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) who conduct fee-based site visits to determine tree care needs. Trees and storm safety information can also be found at GaTrees.org.

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 We need to do a better job conveying the importance of individual trees, particularly those with more than 20 years of remaining life span. Being canopy centric can lead to an emphasis on replanting. Large trees are inconvenient to urban development, but to destroy the big trees in the urban forest is the equivalent of polluting upstream, but the price paid is the degradation of the forest, soil, and the ecosystems around it. All urban dwellers should care about this, as we are what live downstream. Arborist have become much better at calculating risk using programs like Tree Risk Assessment Qualification that integrates the latest research on tree biology, health, and structure. These programs and arborists experiences can help access those trees that have the longest to live and present the least risk. 

 

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How to Shinrin-Yoku

Excerpted from an article by Barbara Brown.  Link to Full Article

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere,” or “forest bathing.” (In Japanese, shinrin means forest, and yoku, although it has several meanings, refers here to a “bathing, showering or basking in.”)

Researchers have found immediate and dramatic effects from even 15 minutes of wandering in the forest in a shinrin-yoku way. Shinrin-yoku is more than simply walking in the woods. It is breathing deeply and opening all the senses to receive the rejuvenating and restorative benefits of the forest. The idea is to let nature enter your body through the senses.

In fact, forest environments provide stimulation of various senses, such as vision (scenery), olfaction (smells of wood, grass, leaves, and flowers), auditory (sounds of running streams or the rustle of leaves) and tactile sensations (feel of the surfaces of trees and leaves). This sensory information is processed and transmitted in the corresponding areas of the brain that control emotions and physiological functions and may affect physiological changes.

Researchers have been amassing a body of evidence which supports the fact that spending time in nature has both long and short term health benefits, especially when we spend time with trees in a forest.  To participate go to a forested area and wander. Go to a park. Follow a trail. Smell the fragrances of the trees and shrubs. Listen to the water, the streams, the birds and the sounds of the forest, the breeze that sings in the leaves and needles.

Think of it as bathing in the full experience of the forest, engaging all your senses and letting the sights, sounds, fragrances and sensations wash over you.

• Set aside an hour or so at least three times a week and go to a forest.

• Leave your cell phone and camera behind.

• Gently walk or even just sit, quiet and still.

• Refrain from conversation.

• Listen attentively. Isolate the sounds of birds, breezes in the trees, even rain.

• Notice the changes of the birds and other forest life after they have become accustomed to your presence.

• Breathe deeply.

• Enjoy the different fragrances of the woods.

• Look closely at the details of leaves, needles, bark, rocks, etc.

• Touch and commune with nature.

Many studies suggest that incorporating a forest bathing experience is important for the health of seniors who are in rest homes or treatment centers. They can receive the healing benefits of nature while sitting in a wheelchair in a garden or a forest. Caregivers receive the benefits, too!

Barbara Howard is a marketing consultant and freelance journalist residing in Monterey. She specializes in natural health and LOHAS, Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, and she blogs at www.naturalsolutionsnews.wordpress.com Reach her at 521-8608 or barbara@BHMarketingPR.com

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