Fall is the ideal time to plant shade trees

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Grace Smith | November 3, 2022

With moderate temperatures and sufficient ground moisture, fall is a great time to plant shade trees, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources said in a press release on Oct. 18. Planting in the fall gives trees extra growing time before hot summer days, and fall’s cooler temperatures allow trees to form their roots. 

“Properly planted trees will have a better opportunity for a long healthy life,” Iowa DNR district forester Mark Vitosh said. “Improperly planted trees can become stressed more easily or may look otherwise healthy, but then suddenly die in the first 10 to 20 years after planting.”

The Iowa DNR offers tips to keep shade trees healthy with a long life. 

  • Put additional soil far from the top of the root ball — the main mass of roots at the base of a plant — to identify the first primary lateral root before digging the hole.
  • The depth of the planting hole can be measured by the distance above the first lateral root to the bottom of the root ball. Health issues can arise if a hole is dug too deep. 
  • Remove roots growing around the root ball, as well as any roots on the bottom of the root ball. 
  • Dig the planting hole at least twice the width of the root ball. 
  • Use the soil from the initial hole to refill around the roots of the tree. 
  • Water the planting hole to settle the soil. Keep watering the expanding root system as the tree grows.

Trees can lower your energy bill

Grace Smith | October 7, 2022

Planting specific types of trees can reduce utility bills, per the “Iowa Climate Statement 2022: The Many Benefits of Our Trees.” The statement said a Midwest electric utility explains that the proper placement of just three trees can save an average household between $100 and $250 in energy costs annually. 

“Attention to the species of trees we plant and their care will be crucial for their survival. Strategies are needed both to sustain the many benefits of existing large mature trees and to increase planting of appropriate new trees for mitigating and adapting to climate change,” said Jan Thompson, Morrill Professor, Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Iowa State University. 

Trees can provide shade, block the sun, and keep the interior of homes cool. In addition, through a process called transpiration, trees lose water vapor to cool the environment. These processes combined create a lower energy bill for homes. 

In the summer months, plant deciduous trees where direct light enters a home. Deciduous trees have leaves in the summer, but lose them in the fall, allowing sunlight to naturally warm a house in the colder months. During the winter, planting evergreen trees on the sides of houses can stop the wind from entering through a house’s gaps and cracks.

Drought and extreme heat’s impact on trees

Grace Smith | October 6, 2022

Long dry periods while waiting for water are impacting trees everywhere, per the “Iowa Climate Statement 2022: The Many Benefits of Our Trees.” Drought-associated tree disturbances have been amplified by climate change. 

Trees survive by transporting water from their roots to their leaves, and drought disrupts this vascular water transport process. When moisture in the air and soil fall, air bubbles can form in the tree’s vascular system, blocking water flow to the leaves – which a tree needs to do to survive. 

In California, over 129 million trees died as a consequence of a severe drought. And, drought-induced stress on larger trees is happening nationwide. In a 2015 journal, researchers examined 40 droughts and found that tree mortality increased with tree size in 65 percent of the 40 droughts. The 2022 Iowa Climate Statement says that extreme heat stresses urban trees and rural woodlands, even if they are well-watered. 

To save trees for future generations, the climate statement suggests planting diverse tree species that can block unwanted pests and pathogens and effectively store carbon.“With their wealth of ecological and social benefits, the trees we have are valuable. We need to plant diverse species of trees to promote resilience and support and strengthen Iowa’s ongoing tree planting programs,” Heather Sander, Associate Professor in Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at the University of Iowa said. “In the face of climate change, we should both plant more trees and provide essential care for the precious trees we already have.”

Iowa Climate Statement 2022 press conference

Floods, droughts, and strong Derechos have become more common and intense weather phenomena in Iowa because of climate change. Our trees are in danger because of these occurrences. The Iowa Climate Statement 2022: The Many Benefits of Our Trees, which was published Wednesday, focuses on ways to increase, and protect rural woods and urban trees in response to climate challenges.

Trees Can Keep Us Cool as Iowa Anticipates Many More Dangerous Hot and Humid Days  

Climate change has caused more frequent and intense weather patterns in Iowa, including floods, droughts, and powerful derechos. These events create conditions that threaten our trees. The Iowa Climate Statement 2022: The Many Benefits of Our Trees released today is focused on the climate threats and strategies to expand and support urban trees and rural woodlands. 

“The August 2020 derecho, the most destructive thunderstorm in US history is emblematic of the impact of climate change on our trees. This extreme event led to the loss of an estimated 7 million rural and urban trees in Iowa,” said Dave Courard-Hauri, Chair of Environmental Science and Sustainability Program, Drake University. “Recovering from this event will take years of coordinated efforts and millions of dollars of investment,” continued Courard-Hauri.  

“With their wealth of ecological and social benefits, the trees we have are valuable. We need to plant diverse species of trees to promote resilience and support and strengthen Iowa’s on-going tree planting programs,” said Heather Sander, Associate Professor, Geographical and Sustainability Sciences, University of Iowa.  “In the face of climate change we should both plant more trees and provide essential care for the precious trees we already have.” continued Sander. 

The twelfth annual Iowa Climate Statement 2022: The Many Benefits of Our Trees was endorsed by Iowa 203 science faculty and researchers from 33 Iowa colleges and universities. 

Learn more at https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.org/iowa-climate-statement/  

Climate change has harmed Iowa’s tree population

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Elyse Gabor | March 29, 2022

Intense temperature changes, lack of rain, and more frequently occurring storms have harmed Iowa’s tree population. Climate change has caused the loss of hundreds of trees around the state. One of the leading causes of tree loss was the derecho in 2020. 

Mark Rouw, who resides in Des Moines, has measured Iowa’s largest trees for more than 40 years. His findings are shared on the Big Trees of Iowa official registry for the DNR. In his 2021 update, he noticed that many trees that had been previously on the list no longer existed due to the derecho. Some of the lost trees include a 92-foot-tall ponderosa pine in Cedar Rapids and a 70-foot tall butternut in Lisbon. 

“I had so many big trees I’ve been monitoring so many years it’s almost like losing a friend,” Rouw said. “Especially some of those that were so big and impressive and unique that after they came down, you’re looking at the contenders and there’s nothing else that comes close.”

Last week, Rouw measured Atlantic white cedars at the Brucemore estate in Cedar Rapids, where he saw University of Iowa arborist Andy Dhal. The two frequently measure Eastern Iowa trees. The state champion tree is a black walnut located on the University of Iowa’s Pentacrest. 

While at Brucemore, they found a new winner, an Atlantic white cedar that now holds the title of state champion. 

Tree planting is blooming: Here’s tips about how to help, and not harm, the planet

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Simone Garza | March 21, 2022

With the climate crisis worsening, businesses and consumers are joining nonprofit groups and local governments for a global tree planting boom. 

The benefits of tree planting including providing oxygen, reducing flooding, and minimizing water runoff, therefore reducing pollution in waterways across the country. 

But when planting is done unsuccessfully, it can magnify the issues the planting intended to solve. Planting trees incorrectly can minimize biodiversity, accelerate extinctions, and make ecosystems inflexible. 

The extinction rates of wildlife animals are surging, as the World Wide Fund for Nature reported in 2021 that extinction rates are 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. The essence of an ecosystem impacts more than plants and animals. Humans also rely on food and water supplies. 

As the climate crisis worsens, tree planting is being invested by companies and countries majorly in commercial land. Although the trees do block off carbon, the trees provide insufficient support to the webs of life that previously bloomed in these areas. 

Debates have been made by policy experts, scientists, and forestry companies through interviews on what exactly is a proper way to plant trees. One idea for some, is big tree farms for timber and carbon storage. The other idea is having fruit trees for small scale farmers. Lastly, the idea is still allowing native species to reproduce. 

Although there’s not enough land on earth to fight off climate change with trees alone, if it can be joined with huge cuts in fossil fuels trees could be an essentially natural solution. 

Downed derecho trees turn into urban lumber

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 29, 2021

Thousands of downed trees from the 2020 derecho were originally turned into mulch, but now, some can be found in furniture, art, and housing materials.

The decision was made to get rid of the massive amount of trees across Cedar Rapids, one of the hardest hit areas in Iowa, according to The Cedar Rapids Gazette. Still, clean up of downed trees lasted months. Now, some trees have become urban lumber. Urban lumber is wood cut from trees that were grown within city limits that are not turned into mulch.

Urban lumber is now available in Des Moines and Iowa City at Habitat for Humanity stores. It’s available to anyone according to Aron Flickinger, a forestry program specialist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Keeping the trees in their initial form and not making it into mulch keeps carbon locked instead of the chemical goes back into the atmosphere. 50 percent of the weight of wood is carbon.

Urban lumber has a multitude of uses. including cabinetry, furniture, flooring, and interior finishes.

Iowa City Roots for Trees program looks to plant more trees

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 17, 2021

After a successful first year, the Iowa City Parks and Recreation department’s Root for Trees program opened this week with the goal of planting more trees than ever before.

The Root for Trees Discount Program started as a part of the City’s Climate Action Plan. The project started with the goal to expand the Iowa City’s tree canopy and diversity. The program broke records last year by planting 400 trees.

The program began again on September 15 and runs until May 2022. To participate, Iowa City residents can redeem vouchers to use at a local tree nursery at a reduced cost. The vouchers work on 19 different types of trees. Once the tree is planted on the voucher user’s property, they are responsible for the care and maintenance of the tree. The voucher cuts the cost of purchasing a tree significantly. Since the voucher is based on income, residents will receive from 50 to 90 percent off at $250 tree.

According to The Daily Iowan, 360 vouchers were redeemed last year. Program facilitators are looking to have even more success in 2021. Applications to obtain a voucher are currently open to residents currently. The City of Iowa City’s Parks and Recreation department also has a guide where voucher users can learn what type of tree is best for their property prior to purchasing and planting.

Iowa Lost Over 7 Million Trees in the Derecho, DNR Says

Derecho Damage in Ames, IA

Josie Taylor | September 15, 2021

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has reported that last summer’s derecho cost Iowa 7.2 million trees as wind gusts got up to 140 miles per hour in some counties. The cities that lost the most were Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Davenport. 

Iowa cities lost 4.5 million trees, and rural Iowa lost 2.7 million trees. 13 percent of all urban trees were lost to the derecho. Cedar Rapids, however, lost 70 percent of their urban trees as they lost 953,224 trees alone. Iowa City and Johnson County lost 234,567 trees. 

The lack of trees in Iowa will ultimately contribute to climate change since trees capture carbon, reduce air pollution, provide natural shade and provide windbreaks. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called the derecho “the costliest thunderstorm in U.S. history. The state sustained $11 billion in damages and Iowan families have filed for $3 billion, according to the Iowa Insurance Division.