Plant like a pro

Why do we plant in the fall? Planting season in the Pacific Northwest coincides with rainier weather and cooler temperatures, meaning that new plantings get plenty of water, and their growth slows down so that they can get settled in their new home and establish their root systems before their first dry summer hits. There are also some great sales to be found at nurseries in September! Fall planting is delayed gratification, since you won’t see much growth until the following spring, but it’s much easier on the plants, and you’re rewarded with budding, happy plants once the weather warms up, while your neighbors are out there paying full price, working in the sun, and driving up their water bills.

Planting at the right time of year helps give plants the best chance of success. So does planting correctly. In our restoration projects, some of our native trees, if they’re lucky, can live for hundreds of years out in our parks. So it’s worth taking a few extra minutes to plant them well. Here are our top tips for planting season, that might be helpful in your own home planting projects too. Happy planting season!

Plant Drawing_one_line

  1. Don’t dig too deep.

Even though they need their roots underground, plants don’t like their other parts to be buried by soil. Planting too deep can cause stems (so fragile in very small plants) to rot, and prevents necessary air flow. Filling extra soil back into the hole after you realize you dug too deep means that your plant is sitting on a loose, churned up foundation and is likely to sink as soil underneath it settles over time. Instead, measure periodically as you dig and stop when you’ve gotten to the right depth. When you are finished, the root flare (or root collar) of your plant – the widened base of the main stem just above where the roots start – should be visible just above the ground. If your plant was in a pot before, dig a hole exactly as deep as the pot, try to leave the plant in the ground at the same depth that it was in its former pot.

  1. Dig wide.

While you don’t want to dig too deep under your plant, you do want a nice wide hole with plenty of room for all of the plant’s roots to spread out on all sides. Loosening up the soil around the plant also allows lateral (sideways) roots to grow easily. If your plant was in a pot, dig a hole that is twice as wide as the pot.

  1. Leave a mulch doughnut.

Mulch can be anything you put on top of the soil after you are finished planting: wood chips, bark, compost, or fallen leaves can all make good mulch for different kinds of plants. The right mulch for your plant helps keep it from drying out, keeps in warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather, and adds nutrients to the soil. But you don’t want anything that can rot to be anywhere near your plant’s roots! So keep mulch, and any leaves and sticks, out of the hole you dig to put the plant in, and don’t add mulch until the very end when your plant’s roots are all covered up. When you’re finished planting, your mulch should look like a nice doughnut around your plant. Just like you don’t want to bury your plant too deep, you also don’t want mulch touching the main stem of the plant itself, because that can cause it to rot too. Pull the mulch a few inches away from the plant to let air to flow all around the main stem, leaving a thick ring on the surface of the soil, on top of where the plant’s roots are.

  1. No J-roots or girdling roots.

Make sure you lay the roots of your plant out in the bottom of the hole so that they spread out and down. Roots that are pointing up underground (making the shape of the letter J) are bad for the health of the plant. Roots that wind around the hole, encircling the plant, will keep growing around and around – these are called girdling roots because they can strangle other roots. If you have J-roots or girdling roots on a plant that you take out of a pot, and they are too stiff to straighten out in your planting hole, it’s better to cut them before putting the plant in the ground, as long as it is a side-root. Never cut a tap root or the main connection from your plant’s stem to the rest of its roots.

  1. Right plant, right place.

Don’t ever plant invasive species! Plants that “escape” from people’s yards through fragments, suckers, spreading vines, or seeds carried by birds or the wind, eventually end up in our parks and other public lands, where they threaten our natural habitats. Choose from a wide variety of beautiful native plants, or non-invasive horticultural species, that will stay in their own space. Also make sure you understand how big your tree or large shrub will grow and how long it will live, so you can plant it far enough away from power lines, foundations, and other things it might encounter as it grows, or pick a species that stays small enough to plant closer.

Want to put these tips to good use? Sign up to help out on Green Seattle Day, Saturday, November 8th, as we plant the future of our forested parks! Or, if you live in Tacoma, Redmond, Kirkland, Everett, or Kent, check out upcoming volunteer opportunities closer to home.

The Trouble with Storms

There are a ton of benefits that trees provide for our cities, neighborhoods, and homes that we can take for granted. Last week we mentioned that a large percentage of the monetary value provided by trees is by mitigating stormwater.

In the Gulf coast, the damage from both the drought and flooding are disrupting city and rural life as Ivan (now a Tropical Storm) passes. Although here in Washington State we don’t encounter hurricanes, all urban folk rely on cities to take care of water flowing through our soil and over our roads. Cities provided the infrastructure to collect, distribute, and treat stormwater and sewage at once, meaning that the pipes and tunnels can get overwhelmed when storms occur.

Here in King County, the Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) is concerned about overflows that can occur when the system’s capacity is overwhelmed by stormwater. This causes environmental and health problems when overflows contain more than just stormwater, but also some sewage. The WTD’s project for Bioretention is one way the county takes advantage of the natural absorptive power of vegetation.

From the Arbor Day Foundation’s publication “Tree City USA” Bulletin 55

Trees are great at managing stormwater runoff from the leaves disrupting rainfall, to the roots system’s

storage of rainwater. According  to the Alliance for Community Trees, mature trees can hold 50 to 100 gallons of water during large storms. Strategic tree planting can relieve pressure off of more traditional infrastructure – Detroit reduced overflow in 2010 by 10-20% in volume, saving about 159 million dollars a year. Trees are an effective, environmentally-friendly solution to an expensive problem.

Free Trees for your Restoration Site!

Forterra’s exciting new C3 program (Carbon Capturing Companies), spearheaded by Pearl Jam, is working to engage local businesses about their carbon footprint.  In addition, this is creating an amazing opportunity for community-lead tree planting for carbon sequestration.

ImageA bunch of great local companies from the Seattle Sounders and Seahawks to Cherry St. Coffee and Molly Moon’s Ice Cream have committed to reducing their carbon usage and sequestering carbon through tree planting. These efforts will be completed on urban parks in the communities where the businesses work and their customers live and play.

Submission period has been extended through September 10th!

Forterra is looking for homes for these companies’ carbon. This means free trees!  Native conifers will be available in the late fall to all who apply and agree to maintain and monitor the trees through their establishment. Application and more information available on the Forterra webpage.

For questions, email me: wbrinkley@forterra.org

Time to reverse this trend

As if we needed any more reason to keep working to make our cities greener.

An article by Eric Jaffe included in today’s newsletter from the Alliance for Community Trees is titled, “US Cities are Losing 4 Million Trees a Year.” Citing a study by David Nowak and Eric Greenfield from the journal Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, mentioned in an earlier article about tree cover and impervious surfaces, the article paints a rather bleak picture of our national urban landscape.

Starting with a study of 1,000 random points in 20 large American cities, and comparing current digital images with images from 5 years ago, Nowak and Greenfield found “clear trends away from tree coverage and toward impervious coverage.” In 17 out of the 20 cities studies, tree coverage went down statistically. Impervious cover (roads, buildings, and other surfaces where water cannot be absorbed) rose in 16 of the cities. Our own Tacoma, Washington, had the largest increase in impervious surfaces in the entire study. To get an even more random sample of the whole country, they then selected 1,000 points in urban areas across the U.S. and compared those as well to come up with their estimate of an average net loss of 4 million trees from U.S. cities every year. What does this all mean? Fewer trees. More concrete. Lower air and water quality. Higher need for tree protection and environmental health programs in general.

Remaining end-of-season planting projects need all the helping hands they can get in the next month or two, so head to your nearest Green City and find a volunteer opportunity to get your hands dirty. As the days get longer and we start to think of drier weather (not that we’re complaining!), planting season is coming to an end. But, invasive weed removal and other projects going on in spring and summer help prepare the natural corners of our cities for more planting starting next fall. Hope to see you out there in Seattle, Tacoma, Kirkland, Redmond, or Kent. Let’s turn this trend around!

Rio de Janeiro, and its parks, drawing global attention

As winter settles into our little corner of the globe, I’m getting excited for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.. Meanwhile, plans are already underway for future Olympics many years down the road.

Having won the bid for the 2016 Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro is now enjoying a global spotlight in all sorts of ways. In addition to a host of other things that make this city worthy of world-wide attention, it has plenty to be proud of in terms of natural area, as noted on City Parks BlogRio is also home to both the first and second largest forests within an urban area, quite a combination.

Tijuca Forest, the world’s largest urban forest, is known as the “green spine of Rio.” Covering nearly 8,000 acres in the center of the city, it is a hand-planted mountain rainforest, re-planted in the 19th century in an effort to protect Rio’s water supply. Pedra Branca Park, the world’s second-largest urban forest, will be one of the sites for the 2,386 seedlings that will be planted to offset all of the carbon emissions from the 2016 Olympics. “The Rio 2016 Games will act as a catalyst for environmental legislation and programs across the three levels of governmen. All our activities are aligned with the city’s strategic plan for the protection of nature. It’s good to get a head start with this action now, in the application stage,” said Carlos Arthur Nuzman, president of Rio 2016 Committee. . . Green Rio Partnership, anyone?