A letter from executive director Yashar Vasef, with an update about community tree planting in Portland
It’s official: We need trees more than ever. Heatwaves, flooding, and all of the increasingly catastrophic effects of climate change make it clear that every day needs to be the day for climate action. Friends of Trees has been planting trees in neighborhoods and natural areas for 32 years; we’re planting street and yard trees that will shade our streets and cool our homes, prioritizing low-canopy, underserved neighborhoods, and we’re also planting native trees and shrubs to help restore sensitive natural areas.
Since 1989 we’ve planted more than 870,000 trees and native shrubs, and we’ve done this through engaging tens of thousands of community members, and while implementing and growing programming that aims to do this work inclusively and equitably.
“At a time when climate change is making heat waves more frequent and more severe, trees are stationary superheroes.” (New York Times, 7/2/2021)
It’s not enough. We are experiencing climate chaos, and trees are increasingly promoted as a major solution, which is why you may have seen Friends of Trees in the news recently. Some of that news focused on our 13 year partnership with the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services.
It seemed until recently that funding for our work planting and caring for street and yard trees in Portland was ending, and our concern was that with our funding ending, and without funding being awarded to anyone for community tree planting, this critical work would be suspended for an unknown amount of time. And given climate change’s growing severity, we simply cannot afford to even temporarily pause community tree planting.
It is widely acknowledged that planting trees is a key part of a comprehensive climate strategy. It is our experience at Friends of Trees that planting trees with community members is also key to fighting climate change.
Planting and caring for trees increases community members’ engagement with the environment and overall participation in civic life, including engaging around climate action. There is a ripple effect from volunteering to plant trees that also fights climate change, beyond the actual trees. We expect to have quantitative data supporting this from the research we are conducting through our community grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, look for an update this winter.
We have since learned that we will receive gap funding to partially continue our Portland tree planting and care efforts through spring 2022, and our deepest thanks go to BES, and also to Commissioner Mingus Mapps’ office, which played a critical role in this positive development. However, there are some significant changes that if implemented would drastically change community tree planting in the City of Portland. As details firm up we will continue to keep you updated.
This particular contract is so important because so much of it has funded planting street trees. Trees play an invaluable role in combating heat islands brought on by climate change, and street trees especially so. Streets and concrete sidewalks absorb and retain heat, and release it at night; street trees help fight this effect and are crucial to cooling neighborhoods.
By now most of us are aware of the inequities with Portland’s tree canopy, one result of which is more heat islands in low-canopy/low-income/under-served neighborhoods. Friends of Trees prioritizes these neighborhoods and will continue to advocate for partnerships and practices that plant trees where they are needed most.
Looking past this upcoming season, BES has said they will issue a new RFP (Request For Proposals) for this sort of work–community tree planting and tree care–sometime this fall/winter, and our understanding is that, while they acknowledge the success of our partnership, they would like to engage other, diverse community partners. And to that we say, Yes!
We fully support BES taking on a new approach to their contracts in a way that prioritizes smaller and BIPOC organizations. It is our belief that uplifting such organizations in this work will make our mission stronger and brings all of us closer to climate justice by introducing voices at the table which were previously shut out. This is why Friends of Trees, during the evolution of our 13 year partnership with BES, has entered into partnerships in this work with organizations such as APANO, Blueprint Foundation, POIC, Verde, Wisdom of the Elders, and others.
Yes, BES (and all other public and private funders) should absolutely fund more community organizations in the fight against climate change and toward climate justice, and we fully support an open RFP process. As more funders work to diversify their support of community organizations, we encourage an approach that increases the funding pie (as in, make a bigger pie as opposed to cutting smaller slices) so more partners can be included. The planet is literally on fire and NOW is the time to increase investments in climate change.
Now we really have some work to do. We are preparing for the next planting season, and we’re doing so with significantly decreased funding and options for our largest urban tree planting site, the City of Portland. In October, when we kick off our 33rd season of planting and caring for trees as a community, we’ll be coming to you to ask that you support this work like never before, since this will be a season like never before.
A global pandemic, climate change, social injustice and political strife present our community with unprecedented challenges and often devastating impacts. As we all work together to re-envision our future, a future that is green, healthy, equitable and inclusive, we must ask all our policy makers and leaders where do their values lie. And do their budgets address an urgent climate crisis unlike anything humanity has experienced? For the sake of our communities, our natural habitats, climate refugees, wildlife, and the pale blue dot we call home, together, let’s ensure they are up to the task.
All my best,
Yashar Vasef, Executive Director
Photo, top: Gambel oak tree
“I love being able to go outside and grab a fresh piece of fruit for a snack – it’s healthy, seasonal, organic, and free.”
-Andrew Land (he/him), Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist and home orchardist
Home orchardry is a rewarding hobby. Growing and maintaining fruit trees keeps you active, gets you outside, and provides fresh food. Fruit trees are also great trees for small spaces where larger trees just won’t work. Friends of Trees plants about 400 fruit trees every season, and they are an increasingly popular choice for yard trees.
Fruit trees are also a lifestyle—it’s a healthy one, but also one that requires regular, active involvement. As Andrew emphasizes, “Fruit trees are high maintenance. Growing fruit trees is a great lifestyle, but it’s not for everybody.”
Fruit trees require annual pruning, and they are pruned very differently than other trees. They also require extra attention: Home orchardists need to be on the lookout for pests & disease.
Location, location, location! Where fruit trees are planted makes a difference, particularly in terms of sun exposure for species susceptible to fungal disease. For instance, it’s ideal to plant fruit trees that are prone to fungal disease (e.g., European pear, some plum, some apple trees) in a location that gets early morning sun so that overnight dew on leaves has a chance to dry, thus offering some protection from fungal disease.
Friends of Trees works to source pest & disease resistant varieties, and provides all new fruit tree recipients with tree care information specific to fruit trees. However, it’s important to keep in mind that all fruit trees will always require extra monitoring and care (and resistance does not = immunity).
Still interested in growing fresh fruit in your own backyard?
In a typical season our top two recommended fruit trees are fig and persimmon. Why? Essentially they are the most pest & disease-free, they require less water, and they are generally low-maintenance. Another bonus of the persimmon tree is that it provides the last fruit of the year and so lengthens the season of food from your garden. If you’re up for more maintenance we usually also offer apple, plum, and pear trees. All of the fruit trees we offer are on semi-dwarf root stock because it is more drought tolerant than dwarf root stock and the roots of semi-dwarf stock anchor the tree more effectively.
By early fall we’ll know what fruit trees we can offer for the upcoming planting season since fruit tree availability varies largely due what’s available from the local nurseries we work with. On our wish list is the early ripening pawpaw, and if you’ve tried this special fruit you know why: pawpaws (which, fun fact, are the largest fruit native to North America) taste like a cross between mango and banana – !
Unlike most of the trees we plant, the cost of fruit trees is not supported by our municipal partners, who prioritize planting the largest trees possible because larger trees provide greater public health benefits. So beyond the $35 co-pay from tree recipients (which is waived if cost is a barrier to a household getting a tree), Friends of Trees is actually subsidizing fruit trees. Why? There are many benefits to growing fruit trees and, ultimately, we want people to grow trees.
More fruit tree resources are available from our friends at the Portland Fruit Tree Project.
Photo: Fig tree in an urban yard, June 2021 | Video: Jenny’s love letter to her Asian pear tree
Get to Know our private property plantings
Street trees planted by Friends of Trees are pretty recognizable—some may say iconic, even. Street trees are the trees planted near the street, identifiable by the Friends of Trees tree tag with information about the species and tree care. But street trees are only part of the picture.
Yes, we’re also restoring natural areas through planting native trees and shrubs, but there’s another aspect to our tree planting that also provides oxygen, fights climate change, and brings people together: it’s planting trees on private property.
Friends of Trees increasingly plants more trees on private property, which is any planting site that is not owned by a municipality or is not a public right-away (such as the planting strip). These locations range in size and flavor, including a large site like the Bybee Lakes Hope Center described in the story above, a private backyard (the most common), the grounds of an apartment complex, at a business … anywhere a tree can fit and live (remember, right tree, right place!).
In a typical season we plant 1,000 yard or other private property trees, and it’s a part of our planting program we’re actively growing. In many ways, planting trees on private property allows for more options and flexibility, especially in yards where there is more choice in tree type because there is often room for larger trees. Neighborhood Trees Program Manger Erica Timm explains,
“I always wanted an Oregon white oak at my home, but I couldn’t plant one as a street tree because they are just too big for my planting strip, so I planted one in my backyard. And because there’s more room in my backyard I was able to plant more native trees and now, combined with my neighbor’s trees, we have a little grove of native trees right outside our back doors. All these trees provide habitat, they capture stormwater, trap pollutants … it’s all the benefits of street trees multiplied many times over since there is space for so many more trees.”
Friends of Trees has been very successful in growing our urban canopy through planting street trees, and offering yard trees is a natural continuation of greening our neighborhoods. We’ll plant street trees as much as we can, but the public right-of-way, such as the planting strip, is a busy space, with sidewalks, utilities (both above-ground and below), etc., and there is more competition for space, so more yard trees is definitely part of our future.
Just like planting street trees, when a tree recipient is interested in a yard or other private property tree we spend a lot of time helping select the right tree for the right place, hole digging, utility locates (know before you dig), and we provide tree care information such as watering reminders. So before you head out to your local home improvement store for your backyard tree, check with Friends of Trees, because in addition to planting a tree, you’ll get expert help and advice, and you’ll grow some community, too.
Photo: A happy yard tree recipient in NE Portland, March 2021.
Pruning trees contributes to a more equitable community. Or, more accurately, pruning trees at no cost contributes to a more equitable, livable community.
How? We’ve learned that a major barrier to many households getting a street tree is the cost of maintaining the tree. Pruning can be very expensive, and it gets more expensive as the tree ages and grows if problems are not addressed early. Properly pruning a tree when young is an excellent investment and can delay or even prevent future expenses, making a tree more affordable. Pruning young trees at no cost by trained Friends of Trees volunteers is one important way to help get more trees into more neighborhoods, especially under-served, low-income communities which are often communities of color impacted by systemic disparities. That is exactly why Friends of Trees is focusing efforts on specifically those communities who will benefit the most.
Our pruning program also benefits youth through our educational partnerships. While we are pruning trees we are also training young people to prune. Through partnerships with organizations like Rosemary Anderson HS POIC, student interns in our pruning program earn an hourly stipend while building valuable job skills. Pruning skills can be developed and honed in preparation for becoming an ISA-certified arborist – a very solid living with excellent job security. Added bonus: Exposing young people to the benefits of trees and tree care contributes to a greater appreciation of trees and nature, helping to grow the next generation’s Tree Team.
Pruning = longer lived, healthier trees = healthier planet + people. The benefits of trees—oxygen creation, pollution and stormwater absorption, healthier humans (DYK that trees help combat cardiac and respiratory ailments and can even contribute to increased birthweights?), and so much more—increase exponentially as trees grow and age. And the earlier a tree is properly pruned, the greater the chance it will grow to a ripe old age benefitting neighborhoods and the planet for generations to come.
Pruning for structure (shape) and clearance (sidewalks and streets) is the primary way to steward and care for a tree post-establishment. Proper pruning contributes to the long-term health of the tree, while lack of pruning, or pruning incorrectly, will contribute to the premature demise of the tree. Pruning in the built environment (as opposed to a natural setting) is also key to preventing tree-related damage following inclement weather.
There’s another reason pruning young trees is better: It’s easier for the tree to recover from pruning when it’s young than it is when the tree is more mature (trees have to “recover” after any sort of pruning, good or bad, it’s just far more efficient for them to recover from careful “surgery” by a trained pruner as opposed to “natural” pruning by snow/ice + wind). When pruned, a tree immediately gets to work “sealing” the cut, working to close off the wound.
When pruning young trees, we have the opportunity to make a 5-cent cut today to prevent the need for a $100 cut 20 years down the road (or, so the saying kind of goes ;). Not only is it more cost-effective to properly prune young trees, the larger the pruning cut (because the limbs are larger), the longer it takes the tree to recover. A tree can quickly seal and move beyond a ¼” cut made with hand pruners, but it may takes years to recover from an 8” diameter cut made with a chainsaw (and it may never recover at all). BTW, trees don’t actually “heal,” they seal or compartmentalize and – once recovered – they then grow more vigorously.
With all the benefits of pruning it’s a good thing our pruning program is so popular with volunteers (100+ pruning volunteers every year!), since volunteer-power is the only way we’ll be able to prune 2,000 trees this season. Pruning is especially popular right now as it’s pretty pandemic-resistant: pruning is not a large group activity and it takes place 100% outdoors. In fact, it’s because of COVID that this will be the biggest pruning season yet, with a 40% increase in trees pruned over last season! BTW, we’ll prune any young street tree in our service area (6” diameter or smaller), not just the trees we plant – all at no cost (thanks in large part to our partners at City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services).
Pruning trees properly contributes to the health of the tree and to those who live under its canopy. We of course want the trees we plant to grow and thrive, and proper pruning when young is key to tree health, so pruning is an important part of our Neighborhood Trees program. Need more information? Visit our tree resources page for more information about tree care and the benefits of trees. Ready for a tree of your own? Get started here!
Photo: Youth interns learning to prune, part of our Rosemary Anderson High School/POIC partnership; August 2020.
The Pacific Northwest is experiencing a historic windstorm event in September, 2020. These winds can cause serious damage to both young and established trees. When the winds pick up, you can take some simple steps to prevent damage to your tree friend.
What should I do to protect my trees from wind?
1. Wind causes leaves to dry out more quickly. That’s why it’s important to make sure tree roots have access to water in the soil to replenish the water lost through their leaves. If trees don’t have enough access to water in the soil, the leaves can dry out, and potentially cause dieback.
- Newly planted trees (1-5 years since planting): Make sure to give young trees a nice, deep soaking of the root zone with about 10-15 gallons of water. That’s three large buckets of water, slowly added to the soil. Make sure you soak all of the soil within two feet of the trunk, and imagine you are trying to reach the roots about a foot deep in the soil.
- Established trees (5+ years): This is a great job for a soaker hose or sprinkler, slowly moistening the soil around the edge of the canopy of the tree. Some mature trees are already experiencing drought stress, so it’s extra important to give them an extra drink during windy periods.
2. You can try to protect the leaves with windbreak.
If it’s possible to establish a windbreak, or to attach a frost cloth securely to your tree’s canopy, this can protect your tree from harsh winds. Friends of Trees cautions against this simply because young trees don’t have established root systems, and a fabric covering might act as a wind sail. You may just end up sending your tree on an unintended journey across your yard. Use your best judgement.
Why does my tree lose water through its leaves?
Water loss through leaves is due to a process called transpiration, which is essentially the process that occurs after your tree takes up water from the soil, uses it for photosynthesis, and then releases it back into the air. The US Geological Survey explains it this way:
“The typical plant, including any found in a landscape, absorbs water from the soil through its roots. That water is then used for metabolic and physiologic functions. The water eventually is released to the atmosphere as vapor via the plant’s stomata — tiny, closeable, pore-like structures on the surfaces of leaves.”
That water (H2O), of course, plays an important role in photosynthesis while inside the plant, reacting with carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce some delicious sugars for the plant to eat (C6H12O6) and some complimentary fresh oxygen (O2) for us!
So, why does the wind cause tree leaves to dry out more quickly?
Because water likes to distribute itself evenly, it will tend to move from a moist location to a drier location. If the inside of the leaf is moist, and the outside air is also moist, water won’t feel the need to jump ship.
But, as Wikipedia explains, “wind blows away much of this water vapor near the leaf surface…speeding up the diffusion of water molecules into the surrounding air.” The wind moves the moisture away from the leaf, encouraging more water to exit the leaf and re-moisten the surrounding air.
So, keep an eye out for dry/windy weather in the forecast, and make sure your trees and plants are prepared. And give special attention to evergreens in windy/dry periods during the winter, as these trees with year-round leaves and needles will transpire year-round as well.