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Celebrate Earth Day by planting trees

Kristi Hendricks

All hail to tradition and plan carefully to plant a native tree on Earth Day (April 22.)

Trees offer an endless array of gifts. With spring come fragrant blossoms followed soon by cooling shelter in summer, colorful fall leaves and winter lawn art. When planted in the right spot, shade trees help keep a home cooler and insulated from damaging winds, thus reducing energy costs.

Deciduous trees not only shed their magical leaves to conserve water and energy in winter, but also to assist with wind-blown pollination with spring’s arrival. Mower mulching those few remaining leaves directly back to the turf canopy is a cost effective means of adding nutrients to lawn soil and suppressing summer annual weeds from germinating in turf voids.

Native trees offer a painter’s palette of spring and summer blossoms. Western Tidewater can boast of the pea-like raspberry-colored blossoms of the eastern redbud, the pale yellow flowers of the American linden tree and the drooping white panicles of the sorrel tree. The showy flowers of these beauties attract honeybees and other beneficial pollinators.

Let’s take a closer look to see what the buzz is about. The earliest bloomer, Cercis canadensis is known for its pink flowers blooming profusely on bare branches and dark multi-boled trunk much to a bee’s delight. Redbuds are known to be great companions to the slightly later blooming dogwood in naturalized settings. Long after the bloom has faded, songbirds are known to break open the resulting bean-like pods for a seed treat.

The flowers of the late spring-blooming linden (Tilia americana) were once used to make tea, and syrup was made from this tree’s sap in times past. Another common name basswood refers to the tough inner bark (bast) used in Colonial times to make rope and mats. When the “bee tree” is in full bloom, honeybees are known to visit in such abundance that the humming can be heard at a distance.

The sorrel or sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboretum) resembles the dogwood with an understory growth habit, fissured bark and crimson autumn leaf color. Yet its summer foliage resembles a peach’s glossy, toothed leaves. But in early summer, there is no mistaking the waxy lily-of-the-valley-like panicles found so attractive to bees. Soon to follow silver-colored fruit capsules offer winter interest to otherwise stark landscapes.

For people who don’t have sufficient yard space to support a full-sized tree, there are other ways to plant a tree in celebration of Earth Day. Many local parks and historical sites have initiatives in place that call for volunteers to participate in tree plantings. Don’t be a wallflower; reach out. VCE programs are open to all. Find your local office at ext.vt.edu/index.html.

KRISTI HENDRICKS is a member of the Western Tidewater Master Gardeners. Contact her at GardenontheJames@yahoo.com.