Trees: Why it's really, really smart to plant some in your garden

by Don Trotter

ello fellow Earthlings, and welcome to the shade. Our topic this time is why trees are such valuable and intelligent things to have in our gardens. They're not just good things to tether a rope swing to; trees have value in our gardens far beyond how beautiful they are.

In the residential garden, it makes very good sense to plant trees. These plants come in infinite shapes and sizes to suit the particular conditions in any yard, large or small. Trees provide us with fresh fruit in the summertime, they fill their canopies with vibrant or subtle colors, and they provide cool shade. But probably their most valuable contribution to our local environments is the fact that trees provide shelter for myriad critters that are beneficial to the garden.

Fruit trees are some of our favorite things to grow in the residential garden. They give us fresh fruit and all they require from us is a few hours a year of care. Now that spring has fully sprung and the memory of that apple tree in full bloom is still fresh in our minds, we can remember that it's not just about the fruit. Fruit trees are harbingers of warmer weather. When an apricot or a plum is in full bloom, we are reminded of warm evenings on the porch or barbecues in the back yard.

But I think they give us something more. Fruit trees remind us of the agrarian heritage of producing our own foods that made this country so prosperous. We have learned so much over the scores of years since our pioneer ancestors first tilled the land. But we have also forgotten the value of how they lived in partnership with the land and a stewardship of their properties. In our age, colossal factory farms use unconscionable quantities of harmful pesticides in order to produce that florist-quality head of lettuce at the grocery store. I see a fruit tree as a testimony to our inherent desire to have our land feed us. I'm not sure if there is any more rewarding thing to do in the garden than to sit under a peach tree and just eat a fresh, ripe piece of fruit.

Ornamental flowering trees have a very good place in the garden as well. When they are in bloom, they show off the garden that we worked so hard to make attractive. Flowering trees also have some of the most fragrant and showy blossoms in a garden. The magnolias that bloom in the early spring are perfect examples of how plants let us know that warmer weather is coming. The flowering trees available to us for our gardens are as numerous as we can imagine and the colors!

Shade is smart! Shade trees, be they evergreens or deciduous, provide cool shade in the heat of summer. They can actually cut our electric bills when they are placed strategically around the house. A shade tree on the south side of a house can keep heat from the sun from radiating through a wall. A shade tree that shades our air conditioning units will allow the unit to take in cooler air so it doesn't have to work as hard to cool the air it sends into the house. Shade trees also provide shelter and homes for birds and other critters that can help to control pests in our gardens.

But I like the idea of having shade trees in front of a house because it makes the house look so much further away from the street. There is this feeling of fresh air when we walk up to a house where the front yard has some shade. Really tall shade trees can actually shade the roof of our homes, to lower our cooling bill in the summer. This is also true in the winter; shade trees can reduce our heating needs because they insulate the roof from the direct effects of harsh weather. It is a fact that it is warmer under a tree in very cold weather. The rope/tire swings and the tree houses are just an added benefit.

One of the greatest features about shade is the opportunity to grow shade-loving plants and flowers in our gardens. They often come in those cool blues and whites that make all those gardening pictures so beautiful. Hostas, delphiniums, and begonias are just a few of the hundreds of shade-lovers that can be planted directly beneath a shade tree to enhance the overall beauty of our homes. One of my favorite things to do is to plant cool season veggies like lettuce, carrots, and spinach among ornamentals in the shade of a tree during the summer. It extends the harvest and some of these edible plants have very attractive foliage that can really enhance a shade garden. Shade makes sense, trees make sense, and the added benefit of fall leaves for the compost heap is a plus as well.

Next time we will be discussing warm season vegetable gardening that will provide tons of tasty food for you and your families. See you in the Garden!

Got questions? Email Don at Don Trotter's Natural Gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. Look for Don's books Natural Gardening A-Z and The Complete Natural Gardener, both from Hay House at your local bookstore and all online booksellers. Chemical free gardening is fun and easy. Try it!