Why Plant a Native Tree?

Make the place you live your home.

When thrown into an alien world, what would you do? I planted a tree.

Finally, it is spring on the Central Oregon Coast, where I now live. The days are still mostly cold and often rainy, but flowering shrubs are in bloom and the deciduous trees have their leaves back. A few weeks ago, we celebrated Arbor Day—in the rain.

Last weekend was the 115th Florence Rhododendron Festival, which marks the beginning of our town’s tourist season. The rhododendrons are truly glorious at this time of year! Oddly, at least to me, most if not all the rhododendrons on display and for sale were hybrids, not natives.

This April, I decided to celebrate Arbor Day and spring by planting a tree in my backyard. Long before I became an environmental activist, I was a tree hugger, meaning I like to touch, talk to, and hug trees.

Over the years, I have written posts about Arbor Day, growing trees from seeds, why trees are important (besides that they are amazing beings), planting trees in my yard and on public land, and several tree-related books.

Let’s explore how planting a native tree can make a strange place feel more like home.

An Alien World

Moving yourself and your household to a different location is a normal part of life but not all moves are the same. Take a moment to reflect on how many times you have moved during your life and why you moved. Did you look forward to some moves and not others? Were you ever forced by circumstances to move against your will? I was. It was traumatic.

After living most of my life in California, in November 2020, I packed up all my belongings and moved to Oregon. I had not wanted to move anywhere, ever again, but life events made it necessary for me to move and start over. If you are interested, I recounted that story in the post titled “The Climate Crisis – Rejoin the Movement.”

Relocating from drought-stricken California to the rainy climate of the Central Oregon Coast was a dramatic change for me. So was moving to a place where I knew one person. Everything was different. It felt like I had landed in an alien world where the inhabitants seemed to speak the same language as me, but I did not know the people or places of which they spoke.

Foggy bridge over the Siuslaw River in Florence, OR – Photo by Einahpets32 (Stephanie).

During the next year, I moved five times. Thankfully, the last move was to a small house that I was able to purchase in my new town. I felt grateful to have a comfortable, safe, and permanent place to live. But it was not my home. Even after months of living here, I would pull into my driveway after a trip to the grocery market, look at the house and think “This is where I live but it is not my home.”

I met some of my neighbors, started getting involved in the community, and began showing up on Friday afternoons for the Climate Strike in front of City Hall. Inside the house, my belongings were familiar but outside I could not identify many of the plants and trees. I still felt rootless. Would this place ever feel like home? I hoped so, but I did not know how to accomplish it.

On Arbor Day, I decided to plant a tree.

Planting A Native Tree

Technically, you can plant any kind of tree in your yard. However, the happiest trees are likely to be native trees that are adapted to the climate, soil, sunlight, wind levels, and rainfall in your community.

To plant trees is to give body and life to one’s dreams of a better world.

Russell Page

As a native plant enthusiast, I knew I wanted a native tree. I was also mindful of the specific conditions that occur in my backyard. Last winter, I discovered that when it rains incessantly for weeks, a small lake forms in a low-lying section of the backyard. Whatever tree I purchased would have to live with wet feet for part of the year, so I sought professional advice at the local nursery.

After talking it over with David at the nursery, I decided to buy a red alder (Alnus rubra) tree, and he picked out a six-foot sapling that looked healthy.

Transporting the tree in my car, a sedan with an inoperable trunk, posed a problem. How to get the tree in the car. My son suggested reclining the front passenger seat. We did and gently wedged the tree into the car. My son sat in the back for the short ride back to the house.

Red Alder Tree Sapling in Pot
Red alder (Alnus rubra) sapling in a pot testing a location in my backyard.

Once there, we looked around the yard to select a suitable location. The tree will grow to 40-80 feet tall so it needs room to grow and spread in my yard, not my neighbor’s yards. This may sound weird, but I like to let trees and plants “tell” me where they would like to be, so I placed the potted tree in what my son and I agreed looked like a suitable location and left it there until the next day.

The tree seemed to like the location.

My son dug a hole and then we partially filled it with a mix of compost and soil. We carefully removed the tree from the plastic container and placed it in the hole. A little more soil was needed to raise the level of the tree enough so water would not pool against the trunk. We filled the hole, and I tethered the tree to a stake to help it stay upright during the winds that blow through here during the summer. I filled up a 2-gallon watering can a few times and sprinkled water over the newly planted tree.

We stood back and admired our handiwork.

To enable me to follow the tree’s progress, I measured and recorded its height at 66-1/2” and snapped a few photos with my iPhone.

I named the tree Aldo. Yes, I am one of those people who like to anthropomorphize. It helps me relate to non-human beings. All trees are cool. But Aldo is special because Aldo is an Oregon native tree, meaning that Aldo’s ancestors have lived in the area for hundreds perhaps thousands of years.

The next day it rained. I think I could see Aldo smiling.

My Home

The act of planting a tree made me feel invested in its future wellbeing. Because Aldo is a native tree, I felt like I was making a positive contribution to the ecosystem in my neighborhood.

Once Aldo was ensconced in my backyard, an unexpected thing occurred. I began thinking of this tiny piece of land as my home. Certainly, other factors have contributed to this feeling, but I believe that planting Aldo marked a sort of rite of passage.

A few weekends later, at the Rhododendron Festival, I purchased two rhododendrons to beautify the backyard of what I now think of as my home.

Two Rhododendrons Purchased at Rhody Festival 2022-05-21
Two rhododendrons that I purchased at the Rhodendron Festival to plant in my backyard.

If you have recently moved and are feeling like an alien in a strange land, consider planting a tree that is native to your area. For those of you who do not have a yard or do not wish to plant a tree in your yard, there are plenty of parks, community spaces, and public forests that need trees. An Internet search will turn up opportunities to participate in planting trees where you live.

There is something magical about planting a tree. Try it and you will see what I mean.

Featured Image at Top: Aldo the red alder (Alnus rubra) sapling I planted in my backyard the day after Arbor Day.

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