Plant a Tree: Invest in the Urban Environment

Tree trunk detail on urban lawn

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”  — Warren Buffett


Planting a tree may be one of the best environmental investments an urban dweller can make. You need a long-term horizon – a buy and hold approach – because this investment takes several years to mature. But the payoff is invaluable. Let us attempt to count the ways.


Up above, the tree canopy provides habitat for wildlife in the city. This resource is critical for birds and other small animals, as changes in weather patterns bring more extreme conditions such as drought. And while “bee habitat” conjures images of colorful flowers, many species of trees provide forage and nesting places for the busy pollinators.


Trees are like extremely quiet, low-level air conditioners. For this reason, they can provide relief to the stubborn problem of urban heat islands. Shade from a tree reduces the energy needed to cool your home. This saves money and cuts down on the pollution that results from producing energy. Trees also cool their surroundings through transpiration, the process of water evaporating through leaves. The Nature Conservancy estimates that trees on city streets provide almost 70 million urban dwellers around the world with a .9 to 3.6 degree Fahrenheit reduction in high temperatures during the summer.


Trees are good air cleaners. As they grow, they use up carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, to feed themselves. This produces oxygen for us to breathe. Also, trees filter out air pollution; their leaves absorb tiny particles of dust and soot, as well as ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulfur and nitrogen dioxide. Trees and shrubs in Minneapolis remove about 384 tons of pollution from the air annually, according to a 2006 study by the USDA Forest Service.

Urban tree branches


Another job trees do well is clean the water. Like plants in a raingarden, they have deep roots that drink up stormwater, preventing flooding and diverting polluted runoff from entering our lakes and streams. Further, their deep root systems prevent erosion, acting as anchors to keep soil in place. Rather than running off, stormwater filters deep into the earth, becoming cleaner in the process.


I think that I shall never see/A billboard lovely as a tree. – Ogden Nash


Don’t sell trees short on their value as objects of beauty. They have been described as majestic, as lovely as poems, even as poems written upon the sky. They beautify their surroundings and increase the monetary worth of property. A large tree in the front yard can help you sell your home for more. Pedestrian retail areas lined with trees attract more foot traffic.


Jim Nayes of Living Sculpture Tree and Shrub Care giving a tree talk at the Blue Thumb partner meeting

Jim Nayes talking trees at a Blue Thumb partner meeting.

Finally, trees are a sign of history—personal and local. Jim Nayes of Living Sculpture Tree and Shrub Care acknowledges his role in planting trees correctly and well on the land, “When I plant a tree, I am impacting families for generations.” Trees are a symbol of human and environmental legacy.


According to an old Chinese proverb, the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, and the second-best time is now. Plant a tree. Be patient. Your investment will grow, and our environment will profit.







Join Us


Visit Blue Thumb at Eco Experience during the Minnesota State Fair! We will have many native plants and shrubs on display, as well as a gravel bed nursery tree provided by Jim Nayes of Living Sculpture Tree and Shrub Care. Jim will also be giving a talk about Planting Your Grandchildren’s Grandchildren’s Trees on the Eco Experience Sustainability Stage on August 30th at noon.


Ready to plant your own tree? Pick up a tree from one of our Blue Thumb partners who specializes in tree care.


Photo of Aleli Balagtas, writerAleli Balagtas is a freelance writer interested in gardening ecologically.