It’s no secret that trees are an excellent piece to the puzzle of climate solutions. In our drive to make change, we’re seeing all kinds of tree planting initiatives in communities across the world, and while that’s encouraging to see it’s also important for us to turn our attention to major climate champions: the mature, legacy trees in our community.
Depending on the species, trees can live for hundreds, even thousands, of years. These ancient trees have stood the test of time and are best adapted to their environment producing seeds with that same resilient genetic make-up.
Legacy trees — those greater than 100 years old — support hundreds of different pollinators and other creatures. Their deep root systems help them soak up stormwater and sequester carbon. According to Tree Trust, it takes 269 saplings to do the work of one mature tree.
It’s also important to recognize the unique set of challenges that our urban trees face from road salt, paving, underground utilities, and perhaps the most detrimental of all: construction and urban development. They need our help to thrive in modern environments.
How to Keep Mature Trees Healthy
After speaking with my friend and colleague Chris Morrison, ISA Certified Arborist, he says that one of the biggest challenges that trees face in urban environments comes down to our soil health which has been compromised in the face of development. He adds that these poor standards are also a major contributing factor to the increase in stormwater runoff and flooding that we are experiencing.
But Chris shares that we can improve the situation through lot level action on our own properties by regenerating the soil.
He likens this process to “putting your trees on a healthy diet” by fostering the soil micro-organisms which allow trees, and all landscapes, to get the water, nutrients, and oxygen they need to live long, healthy lives. This ecosystem of “oxygen-loving fungi,” soil micro-organisms, and other beneficial soil dwellers require organic matter of “living and formally living plants and organisms” which he adds is typically low in our urban soils.
So how can we foster these ecosystems to regenerate the health of our soil in our own yards? Chris provides a simple and easily implemented regime to improve a tree’s health:
- Add small amounts of compost in the spring and fall,
- Cut any turfed area at a high mower deck setting (3″ if possible), and
- Avoid synthetic fertilizers.
When asked about common signs and symptoms of changes in a tree’s health, Chris shares that these changes are mostly visual, and he suggests keeping a note book of annual observations of the tree as a helpful resource for understanding trends in the tree’s health. Some things to look out for include:
- Changes in the growth of the new season’s leaves/needles. Do they seem smaller than in the past? Did they bud out a bit later? Did fall color set in sooner? Were they shed sooner? Has it fruited heavily several years in a row?
- Watch for fungal fruiting bodies at the base of the tree and under the canopy in the surrounding landscape. These can all be signs of stress in your trees.
- Be aware of any drainage changes and construction/human activity near your trees.
A simple regime such as this will improve a tree’s health and allow it to live to an older age. Chris says that it is important to call a professional for a tree health check-up soon rather than later which “may prove inexpensive if something can be caught and dealt with while the tree is relatively healthy.”
Help Care for Legacy Trees with Tree Trust
Tree Trust is a program based out of Elora who have made it their mission to preserve the legacy trees in communities across Southern Ontario by working with certified arborists to care for these trees.
Reep Green Solutions will be the community partner for Waterloo Region and will work with Tree Trust to deliver the program in our community. We have started working with an arborist to plan care for our first tree — a bur oak at St. Benedict’s Catholic School in Cambridge (pictured above) — and we are actively seeking other legacy trees to care for.
You may be wondering how you can get involved to preserve the legacy trees of our community, and we have two opportunities for you to take action:
- Donate to contribute funds to care for the legacy trees in our community.
- Nominate a legacy tree in need in our community. We’re looking for tree candidates in Waterloo Region who meet the following criteria:
- Age: 100+ years old
- Location: private, non-residential property (e.g. long-term care home, place of worship, school property)
- Ecological, cultural, and/or historical significance
We would love to hear about the trees that speak to you and your community! Together, we can help to preserve the legacy trees across Waterloo Region.
If you’re interested to learn more about Tree Trust, check out the program website: treetrust.ca