Whether You Want Clean Air Or A Fresh Look, Trees Are A Natural

April 21, 1991|By Kate Pipkin | Kate Pipkin,Contributing writer

Are you looking for privacy? Do you want to improve the environment?Do you want to change the way your house looks?

If so, then it's time to take a second look at trees. They're not just for beauty anymore.

Trees serve a variety of functions that can help fulfill the needs of your home and your community.

One of the most important things trees do is put oxygen back into the atmosphere. They also trap dust, decrease smog and muffle noise.

Trees help to improve the environment in other ways, too. In fact, the type of tree you plant even can help save the Chesapeake Bay.

Madis Pihlak, associate professorin the University of Maryland, College Park's landscape architectureprogram, said trees that grow naturally in the mid-Atlantic region are those best to choose when landscaping your property.

"The more one can mimic what the native mid-Atlantic forest looks like, the better off the Chesapeake is," said Pihlak.

This type of natural ground cover is known as a woodland garden, and it induces an ecological regeneration process. Fewer chemicals are needed to maintain trees that grow naturally in a particular region, and that means fewer chemicals flowing into the bay.

"Trees are the first things that give nature a foothold," Pihlak said.

Because of the degree of rainfall and mild winters here, a variety of trees can be used to create a woodland garden. Some of those include rhododendron, evergreen and azalea.

Francis Gouin, chairperson of the University of Maryland, College Park's department of horticulture, said one should remember there are three different climatic regions in Maryland -- the southern, the central and the western. Each is conducive to a different variety of trees. For example, western Maryland has a climate similar to that ofNew England, making it good for trees like the white birch.

But if you try to plant one a white birch in central Maryland, it may die.

Gouin said trees also help clean the soil.

"Tree roots have a strong effect on the soil," said Gouin. "Tree roots go down fairly deep and absorb things like nitrates from the soil, which ultimately helps to clean water. When the roots die they leave tunnels, which alsohelps the soil."

Besides helping to save the bay and improve soil, trees also can be used to improve the quality of the environment inresidential areas.

For muffling sounds, most experts agree that awall is probably more effective, but a tree will muffle some sounds.

The greatest amount of sound is absorbed by the trunk of a tree, and any close planting of trees will enhance this effect. Hemlocks are usually the tree of choice for reducing noise, and they also thrivein the East Coast climate.

If you're interested in cooling your home in summer and insulating it in winter, then you'll want evergreens. They can be planted near the house and can serve as windbreakers. In addition, they are hardy and some are fast-growing.

As windbreakers, evergreens can protect your home from snow and wind and reduce heating costs up to 30 percent.

According to John Rausch, nursery manager at Imperial Nursery in Columbia, evergreens are also the natural choice for privacy.

A fast-growing landscape tree, the white pine evergreen is one of the best for privacy, windbreak or a decoratively sheared hedge.

Evergreens can be kept in a desired shape by pinching off new growth in the spring.

Trees also can be used to help avid bird watchers attract and feed their feathered friends.

"Holly trees are good for this because birds are attracted to the berries or fruit of a tree," said Rausch.

Viburnums, of the honeysucklefamily, and Russian olive trees are also good for attracting birds. Birds also enjoy hiding in trees with dense foliage, like maples.

Of course, if you're interested in growing something you can eat, then fruit trees are the natural choice. Fruit trees can be part of a home orchard, can be placed as a privacy curtain or planted at the corners of a house.

Just about any tree can change the way your house looks.

Tall trees tend to soften sharp roof lines. A group of shrubs or small trees can smooth corners of houses and alter the look of an exceptionally tall home. The American arborvitae makes a visually pleasing accent for doors and gardens. Strategically placed, a singletree of this species will soften house corners.

Depending on how you plant them, trees can seem to shorten a long yard or lengthen a short area. Planting shrubs in front of trees creates an illusion of depth.

One of the most obvious functions of trees is to provide shade for us. Before choosing a shade tree, you should consider whether you prefer dark or light shade. Maple, oak and linden trees are good for dark shade, even though they make it more difficult to grow grassunderneath. The locust tree gives light shade.

For general tree-planting tips, Henry Marconi, general manager of Watson's Garden Center in Towson, said soil conditioner is a must when planting a tree.

Peat moss and cow manure are two effective soil conditioners. They allow for good drainage and retention of moisture.

Marconi also recommends using natural soil, as opposed to topsoil, when planting a tree. To insure the growth of new roots, place a good mulch on top of the soil after the tree is planted. Leave a few inches between the mulch and the trunk.

As to watering, the amount of rainfall in the spring is usually enough to keep a tree satisfied, but the general ruleis that trees should be watered once a week.

"The larger the tree, the greater the moisture loss," said Marconi. "Of course you have to be careful not to over-water as well and cause the tree to be drought-susceptible."

Consider how large your tree will grow and avoid planting it underneath or near utility lines. And try to plant your tree immediately after obtaining it.

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