Leaflet: Summer Glory

Shop now, plant later

Now is when trees are in their full glory. You can see it, smell it, and feel it whenever you walk around the neighborhood. It’s not a good time to plant trees—we’ll wait until our planting season, October-April—but now is the time to be thinking about what tree you might want to plant. Look for the species on a Friends of Trees tag. Consider how big a tree gets when it’s mature.

“When we call you later this year to see what tree you want, you won’t be able to look around and see what a tree looks like in the middle of summer,” says Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist Andrew Land. “Summer is an outstanding time to look around.”

Beyond finding a tree whose glory really speaks to you, now is also a great time to think critically about the conditions where a particular tree can succeed. A core aspect of the Friends of Trees ethos is right tree, right place. We want every tree to survive and thrive.

If you see a tree you really like and think, maybe I want one of those, observe the place that it’s in. Consider the conditions: sunlight, moisture, competition, space. Compare those to the conditions in your own yard where you might want a tree.

When we talk about a tree getting full sun, we’re really only talking about the growing season from mid-April through September. The sun exposure in your yard changes considerably from season to season. Now is the time to study how much sun your new tree would get next summer.

“Thinking ahead is how we set up a tree and its steward—you—for success,” Andrew says.

We always invite you to connect with staff about tree selection. And we encourage you to keep an open mind to something new and different. Don’t be afraid of big trees. Consider trees that will be more resilient to climate change. Glory is subjective, and there are so many factors beyond appearance.

“Take the Hardy Rubber Tree, for example,” Andrew says. “It’s nondescript. You wouldn’t necessarily call it pretty. But it’s the best air filter of all the trees.”

Or take the Amur Maackia. It’s not known for its spring flower or its fall color, but it casts a beautiful dappled shade and does really well in the urban environment. When it comes down to it, survivability is the biggest priority.

“Think of all the benefits that a tree provides to people and community,” Andrew says. “Those benefits expand exponentially every year that a tree survives, which is why we want every tree to last as long as possible.”

Leaflet

Restoring the Balance

Today, we’re asking you to put yourself in a tree’s shoes–or roots. Planting day is so exciting for volunteers. We get to hang out with our neighbors, get our hands dirty, and feel good about getting trees in the ground. But planting day is the most stressful day of a tree’s life.

When we plant a tree, we have to cut some of its roots. Container-grown trees need to have their roots cut to prevent them from circling in on themselves, even after they’re put in the ground. Ball and burlap trees are grown in the ground, but they also get their roots cut when they are put into that ball to be moved to their final location.

Trees are all about balance. Balance between canopy, where the tree can feed on sunlight and perform photosynthesis, and roots, which pull nutrients from the soil and provide the tree its needed strength and stability. For a newly planted tree, this time of year is all about restoring that balance and getting the roots and the shoots established.

Trees are like icebergs—there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface than we realize. Being able to understand what’s going on underground for our trees helps us better care for them, especially when it comes to watering.

We’ve mentioned watering plenty, but it’s so important that we can’t really talk about it too much. We have had an incredibly wet spring, which is great for the trees! As stewards, we’ve been able to keep our foot off the gas—we haven’t really had to worry about getting out our hose or watering bucket all that much.

But at some point the rain becomes intermittent and shallow enough that it doesn’t reach the tree roots. Watering trees is very different from watering grass, which benefits from frequent and shallow watering. One of the most common watering mistakes is watering your tree like you would your grass, for just a few minutes every day. For trees, we want deep and infrequent. In the summer, a thorough watering once a week is a perfect schedule (see details here).

When you water your tree, imagine what’s going on underground. We want to water the tips of the roots as they spread out. Another common watering mistake is when folks just point their hose at the base of the trunk and water there. You want to simulate a rain storm for your tree, watering all sides, and several feet away from the trunk so that you get the tips of the roots.

Overwatering is rare, but you still want to avoid it. Again, it helps to picture what’s going on beneath the surface. Perfect soil is about 50% air and water pockets. Too much water can flatten those pockets and there’s no air. You’re essentially drowning your roots. Beyond that, too wet soil threatens the stability of the tree. When a tree fails because it’s thrown by the wind, it’s usually because the soil is too wet.

This time of year, we are spectacularly rewarded for our care for our trees. Bud break, flowering, leafing out—it’s a rejuvenating thing to see each spring.

If you’re thinking about getting a new tree for your yard next year, now is a good time to consider which species you might want! What trees are catching your eye? What looks like it might be right at home in your yard. Take note now, and next year, we can get you what you’re looking for!

Leaflet

watering with a bucket

Determining Your Tree’s Watering Needs

We’ve had a wet April, which means your trees are getting plenty of water! But the transition from spring to summer can be a tricky time to determine when to water your tree.  Come this time of year, we recommend watering once a week when the weekly rainfall is less than one inch. But you might find yourself wondering, “when did it rain last?” (You can check here!)

Too much watering is the most common mistake, but consistent watering is crucial to getting these young trees established. A good way to know if your tree needs water is to check the soil. Stick a garden trowel or even a pencil 2-3 inches into the soil. If the soil at that depth is dry to the touch, then your tree is ready to be watered.

watering crew

Once the dry season settles in, watering once a week is a good schedule (pick a day to water and keep it up!). Deep watering is best for these newly planted trees. Give 10-15 gallons at a time. Water slowly so that moisture soaks deeply into the soil and water doesn’t run away from the root zone. Mulching is a great way to hold water in the soil for your new trees.

Either a gator bag, hose on a gentle trickle for maybe 20 minutes, or a 5-gallon bucket with three 1/8″ holes drilled on the side at the bottom and filled 2-3 times consecutively works great. It’s a good practice to move the bucket around the tree each time you fill it to ensure that the whole root system gets water. Think of it this way: we’re trying to simulate a rain storm, during which all parts of the root system will get water at about the same time and rate.

It’s important to note that dry and hot are two different things. In late spring and early summer, we may get some seemingly perfect weather, and you don’t think to water your tree because it isn’t hot outside. But regardless of temperature, a dry spell is characterized as 2-3 weeks without significant rainfall. It might not be hot out, but your tree still needs a drink!

If the temperature gets over 90 degrees, bump your watering schedule up to twice a week. If we see another heat “event” coming, a good, deep soak beforehand can help the tree survive.

Leaflet: Spring Tree Care

Spring has Sprung – What that means for your trees

Trees are breaking dormancy, but that doesn’t look the same for every species. Some are early risers, and some sleep in. A bunch of factors go into it, including species, daylight, and temperature. Here are some things you can do to take care of your trees this time of year.

Mulch Madness

It’s a great time to refresh mulch as needed. The objective is to mulch the tips of the roots as they grow outward from the base of the trunk. They will grow into soil that’s moderate in temperature and contains moisture, factors that mulch will provide. Because the roots are growing outward, when you mulch trees in their second year in the ground, aim for more of a 4-5′ diameter ring of mulch, still 3” thick, about a foot from the base of the trunk.

You may have noticed that some trees hold their leaves through winter. They’re called marcescent leaves, and they are a sign of last season’s growth. You’ll see them on native oaks like Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana) and scarlet oaks (Quercus coccinea). Come spring time’s flush, these leaves will be shed to make room for new growth. You can use these leaves as mulch!

Go easy on the pruning

It’s best to go easy with regard to pruning during “bud break.” This is when sap is rising up the tree, after having dropped to the roots in the fall. As the sap is rising, some trees (maples, for example) will “bleed” if pruned as sap is rising. It’s not harmful to the tree—that’s where maple syrup comes from, after all—but it can be disconcerting to see.

Weekly Watering

It’s almost time to start weekly watering for newly planted trees. “Deep and infrequent” is the recipe for success. Starting mid-April, 15 gallons all at once, once a week is ideal. Either a gator bag, hose on a gentle trickle for maybe 20 minutes, or a 5-gallon bucket with three 1/8″ holes drilled on the side at the bottom and filled 2-3 times consecutively works great.

If the temperature gets over 90 degrees, bump that up to twice a week. If we see another heat “event” coming, a good, deep soak beforehand is very wise as preventative medicine.

More tree care here!

Tree Care + Equity

Most people by now are fairly well attuned to the benefits of trees environmentally, socially, mentally, and more. However, less people are aware of how tree canopy is distributed among a city and its neighborhoods.

A trend across the country in large cities is that trees, and the benefits they bring, are distributed inequitably across neighborhoods based on race and income. Higher income neighborhoods with majority white residents have over 75% tree canopy coverage as compared to lower-income neighborhoods with around 15-30% canopy cover. These are large discrepancies that result in hotter environments, more air pollution, and factors contributing to respiratory conditions like asthma for children.

These trends are reality here in Portland: west Portland (excluding Forest Park) has about 75% canopy cover in most neighborhoods, while east Portland neighborhoods average about 15-30% canopy cover. Friends of Trees prioritizes planting street and yard trees in neighborhoods on the eastside of Portland to help decrease this disparity.

However, many people are wary about – if not outright opposed to – getting a tree of their own because of the costs of tree care, which can increase as a tree grows. This is just one of the reasons Friends of Trees provides tree care along with tree planting, including proper pruning of young trees at no cost to the property owner. And we’re exploring ways to increase the availability of low to no cost tree care for folks who need it, because we know the benefits of trees far outweigh the costs.

In the City of Portland, tree care and maintenance costs are the responsibility of the tree’s adjacent property owner. This is an inequitable financial burden for low-income households, renters, and populations vulnerable to gentrification. Many communities of color cite the financial burdens that a mature tree can bring as a reason to not want to plant trees next to their houses. It’s important to address these very valid concerns since trees have so many benefits, which is why Friends of Trees is continually working on creating programming that is responsive to community needs; in fact, we have funding proposals pending with Portland’s Clean Energy Fund that would help subsidize costs of mature tree care so we can grow our already considerable post-planting tree care services.

Understanding concerns about tree care
In 2018, Friends of Trees partnered with APANO and LARA Media to conduct three focus groups toward better understanding how community members viewed neighborhood trees and tree planting efforts. To increase accessibility these focus groups were conducted in multiple different languages including Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Spanish. Overall, many community members cited the benefits of trees within the city, including their health and environmental benefits:

“Trees are good for the lungs. They are the lungs of the city.”
“In the city, there’s big trees that make the air cooler. It also makes the city greener.”
participants from the Vietnamese focus group

However, when asked if there are barriers for them to plant trees, many community members cited the long-term costs associated with mature tree care. One participant said: “One of the negatives is that sometimes Portland has a lot of storms and trees fall down when there’s strong wind. I experienced that once. The tree can fall into the house and collapse the house. Usually I try to hire a professional to cut the tree, but it [can cost] thousands of dollars. The tree bothers us.”

Trees and access to the natural environment are integral to healthy, livable neighborhoods. The benefits trees bring are strongest when they are mature, at least 10-15 years after they are planted. However, the fears community members have about the costs trees may bring are also valid, especially since the median household income on the eastside of Portland is lower  and there are fears of being pushed out.

Friends of Trees is committed to equitably growing the urban forest through community-centered tree plantings. We offer tree care for the first three years of a tree’s life after it’s planted, including affordable (or free if cost is a prohibiting factor) summer watering service; free mulch; and structural pruning provided at no cost (see the next story for more about our pruning program). Structural pruning on a young tree is vital for its long term health, and can help prevent limbs falling onto a house or car later on in its life, since we can prune for the built environment and the tree will grow into that structure.

However, Friends of Trees also recognizes there are long term costs and concerns that need more support within our communities to make sure the urban forest is distributed equitably. We are continually working on creating programming that is responsive to community needs and when the opportunity arises we pursue grant funding to help subsidize costs of mature tree care. Because we know that, all in all,  the positives of trees far outweigh the negatives; as our good friends at J Frank Schmidt like to say, “Trees are the answer.”

Photo: Street tree planting in east Portland, January 2020.