by Marlene Berlin
Homeowners and apartment property managers can make all kinds of green infrastructure improvements, such as installing rain gardens, rain barrels and permeable paving. But one of the best and long-lasting green infrastructure investments we can make is to plant trees.
Tree canopies reduce stormwater erosion by reducing the force of the falling rain. The roots also help control erosion, as well as soak up the water. Also, trees act like a sponge for pollution, and their shade cools streets, sidewalks and homes during the summer months.
Unfortunately, we have lost many mature oaks to disease in the couple of years. Vera Ertem, a DDOT Urban Forestry arborist overseeing Ward 3 street trees, told Forest Hills Connection that 36 oaks were slated for removal in ANC 3F this year through July.
And those were just the trees under DDOT’s watchful eye. The canopy loss extends to people yards, too. On my square block, we have lost about eight giant oak trees, including two on my own property.
Development is another direct cause of the loss of trees. We can counteract this by planting shade trees on our properties.
What kinds of trees? According to Douglas Tallamy, a professor at Delaware University in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife, the oak tree is a stellar tree to plant. It supports the greatest biodiversity by far. In his most recent book, The Nature of Oaks, he points out that in Pennsylvania, where he lives, “511 species of moths and butterflies develop on oaks, nearly 100 more species than its nearest competitors the native cherries.” The native dogwood supports just 126 species.
Some property owners hesitate to plant large trees, for fear they will damage homes and electrical wires when they come down. Ertem understands the hesitancy, and suggests a solution: Plant more than one. Their root systems will intertwine, providing more stability and making them able to better withstand wind and rain storms.
To entice property owners to plant more shade trees, the District offers to plant certain varieties on single- and multi-family properties for free. This is through the DC Department of Energy and the Environment’s Riversmart Homes program. You can find more information and some of the available trees here.
The Riversmart trees are planted in the spring. If you want to plant sooner or interested other species of trees, DOEE also offers rebates on shade trees worth $50 to $100. Casey Trees has the full list of eligible trees.