We love oaks and you should too!
At Friends of Trees, we are particularly fond of oak trees, so much so that our mascot is Garry Oak. For our tree experts, it’s a go-to tree for reasons that go beyond its iconic nature.
“We got a lot of oaks this season,” says Neighborhood Trees Senior Specialist Drew Land. “As a species, they are an effective resource against climate change. And I want people to know that!”
A recent study published in Tree Physiology found that when mature oak trees were bathed in levels of CO2 equivalent to what is expected in 2050, the trees increased their rate of photosynthesis up to a third in response.
Some folks are reluctant to plant oak trees because they drop a lot of leaves. But we have learned that it’s healthier for your yard to leave the leaves, so that shouldn’t discourage you. Oak leaves are high in tannic acid and don’t decompose as immediately as other species, so they make for particularly good mulch.
Oak trees are particularly good providers to their ecological community, from contributing to the food web to managing the watershed to storing carbon. In those regards, it’s one of the most productive things you can put in your own yard.
“You plant an oak in your yard, you’re planting a zoo,” says Douglas W. Tallamy, author of The Nature of Oaks. “It’s your chance to create life that didn’t exist in that space.”
Oaks are the backbone of our local food chains and are crucial to feeding native insects, which feed the native and migratory birds and small mammals. The Willamette Valley was an Oregon White Oak savannah for 10,000 years. It doesn’t get any more native than that!
“Thankfully, we do plant loads of Oregon white oaks, which is the most important oak species locally,” Drew says. “But the more we plant, the better.”
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.
The Eugene Branch
Trees with summer color, summer interest, and more!
When we think about trees + color most of us typically think of spring flowers or fall color. And while there is an incredible variety of trees with beautiful flowers and stunning fall foliage, here in the Eugene area we’ve been planting some great trees that deliver on summer color, summer interest, and more!
All of trees here, except for the Gambel oak, are drought tolerant species that do well in poorly drained or compacted soil. Added bonus: All of the trees in this list (again, except for that Gambel oak, good thing it has so many other wonderful qualities 🙂 ) are insect pollinated, making them especially beneficial to our threatened native pollinators!
Here are a few of our favorites:
Chitalpa tashkentensis ‘Pink Dawn | ‘Pink Dawn’ chitalpa
This drought tolerant tree is a hybrid of southern catalpa and desert willow. It blooms for several months during the summer showcasing trumpet shaped white and pink flowers. Also a pollinator favorite!
Koelreuteria paniculata | Goldenrain Tree
Native to Asia, this clay tolerant species is easy to recognize in summer when it shows off its lantern shaped seed pods.
Lagerstroemia indica | Crape myrtle
This hardy species is currently in full bloom and hosts a large number of pollinators on their large clusters of bright colored flowers. Once they’ve finished blooming, clusters of brown seed pods will form and release winged seeds.
Maackia amurensis | Amur maackia
Amur maackia clusters of greenish-yellow flowers are a favorite for pollinators and have just finished their bloom. Their seed pods are beginning to turn brown before falling off of the tree.
Styphnolobium japonicum | Pagoda tree
Once established, these trees can fare well in heat and drought. During the late summer months, white blooms in large clusters are a haven for bees with their sweet smelling flowers.
Quercus gambellii | Gambel oak
From the southwestern US, these oaks provide a lot of shade for a small sized tree. In the late summer you will find their bright green, egg-shaped acorns forming.
Aster subspicatus | Douglas aster
For fun, a flower! A favorite native in our greenspace program, Douglas aster is in full, striking purple bloom! Growing in a variety of habitats, this native perennial is a great addition to any yard, garden, or planting pod.
photo at top: Oregon myrtle
“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
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.