Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees

Planting trees is an act of love towards people and the planet.

Imagine if you could do something simple to beautify your community and help keep Earth habitable. Planting a tree is one way to do it.

If you have access to a shovel or even a garden trowel, you can plant a tree seedling in your yard or somewhere else, that needs a tree like a park, community open space, or a forest. You can obtain a tree seedling from a nursery, botanical garden or native plant sale, or a nonprofit organization that grows trees.

Mother Nature does a lot of tree planting ably aided by the wind, rain, and critters, both feathered and furry. However, she would probably appreciate some assistance from us, humans. Mother Nature is unlikely to come knocking on your door asking you to plant trees, but I think she is wily and employs a variety of methods to get the word out. If you are not listening, she may give you a nudge or two. That is what happened to me.

Cambria in the Pines

Before moving to live among Monterey pine trees in the small town of Cambria on the California Central Coast, I had never lived this close to the rest of nature. Our town motto is “Cambria in the Pines.”

My spouse and I share a tiny piece of land with Monterey pine and oak trees, native plants, mule deer, wild turkeys, voles, lizards, and a wide variety of birds. I am acquainted with each tree in our mostly wild yard. Whenever a tree dies, I feel bereft. Then I will notice a new tree seedling in our yard and feel hope.

Our Monterey pine forest is one of the few remaining native stands of Monterey pine trees in the world. It is precious, irreplaceable, and struggling to survive. Drought, rising temperatures, and disease have taken a toll on the forest. Thousands of trees have been lost. Mother Nature and people have planted new tree seedlings, but not enough, not nearly enough. We are in danger of becoming “Cambria in the Pine.”

Over the years, to supplement Mother Nature’s efforts, I have attempted to buy Monterey pine seedlings at our local nursery, but they never have any in stock (I think this is weird). I admit that I did not look elsewhere for seedlings. Perhaps Mother Nature sensed that I needed a nudge to propel me to action so she gave me not one but two gentle nudges.

We Meet a Tree Hugger

Near the end of December, I saw a notice in the local newspaper The Cambrian that the Cambria Forest Committee was hosting a talk by a guy named Rick Hawley from Greenspace, a local nonprofit land trust. The subject was Monterey pine trees. I was interested but what really caught my attention was a sentence that said Greenspace grows Monterey pine seedlings for sale to the public. I thought, “You are kidding me. Why do I not know about this?”

A week or so later, on a cold evening in January, my spouse and I bundled up and walked down to the community room at the Rabobank to hear Rick speak and to find out how we could obtain some tree seedlings.

Rack Holding Tiny Monterey Pine Seedlings at Cambria Forest Committee Meeting on January 9, 2019
A rack holding tiny Monterey pine seedlings at the Cambria Forest Committee meeting – January 9, 2019. This photo and the one below courtesy of the Cambria Forest Committee.

As soon as we entered the room, I saw a rack of tiny Monterey pine seedlings nestled in little plastic sleeves sitting on a table. I coveted them.

Rick gave an impassioned talk about Monterey pine trees and discussed the importance of replacing trees that have been lost due to drought, disease, or age. Planting trees helps forests stay healthy and resilient.

One thing I discovered during the meeting is that I am not quite the law-abiding citizen that I thought I was. Apparently, you are supposed to obtain a permit before removing a tree over a certain size (including dead trees) and are required to plant replacement tree seedlings.

You know assuming is dangerous, right? Well, I had assumed that the tree service we hired from time to time to remove our dead trees had a permit or something so we did not need one. I did know about replacement tree requirements but fortunately, we have had more than enough tree seedlings volunteer in our yard to replace the dead trees (whew). Okay, now I know.

Rick Hawley and Linda Poppenheimer Talking after the Cambria Forest Committee Meeting on January 9, 2019

At the close of the meeting, I approached Rick to thank him for his inspiring talk and to volunteer to grow seedlings. When I asked him where I could obtain seedlings to plant in our yard, he gave me his business card and told me to call to make arrangements.

Mother Nature Throws down the Gauntlet

Two weeks later, Rick’s business card was still sitting on my desk.

Then, one day my spouse walked into our home office and said, “A Monterey pine tree just threw a seed at me.” This had occurred outside of our kitchen when a pinecone made a loud cracking noise as it burst open and then a single papery-winged seed drifted down onto the deck. I had never seen a Monterey pine seed.

I took this as a sign from Mother Nature.

After locating Rick’s card, I called and left a message that I was interested in buying some Monterey pine seedlings.

We are still in the rainy season so I thought the seedlings would have a good chance of settling in before the dry summer and fall months. I figured I could probably keep track of and care for twenty seedlings. This means keeping the wild grasses from overrunning them and carrying water to their locations if needed.

Rick called back and said he would bring the seedlings to the Greenspace office for me to pick up.

When I arrived at the office, Rick introduced me to Mary Webb, the current president of the board of directors. The three of us had a delightful conversation about Greenspace and Monterey pine trees. Greenspace began as a land trust in 1988 and has been instrumental in preserving natural areas, restoring the Santa Rosa Creek watershed, caring for the Monterey pine forest, leading educational forest excursions for middle school students, and advocating for local environmental issues.

Mary Webb and Rick Hawley Holding Greenspace 2001 Arbor Day Foundation Award and Two Monterey Pine Seedlings
Mary Webb and Rick Hawley standing outside the Greenspace office in Cambria, CA holding Greenspace’s 2001 Arbor Day Foundation award and two Monterey pine seedlings that would soon find a home in my yard – January 24, 2019.

Greenspace sells Monterey pine seedlings in one-gallon pots for $10 each. I think this is a good deal. If everyone in town invested just $10 for one tree seedling for their own yard or for a community open space, we could plant about 6,000 trees.

Planting Monterey Pine Tree Seedlings

When I got home, my spouse helped me unload the seedlings from my car and we lined them up on the edge of the driveway so I could take a group photo before we dispersed the trees to their planting locations (top phot0).

We decided to plant the seedlings that weekend before the next rainstorm.

Linda Poppenheimer Holding a Monterey Pine Seedling with Shovel, Bucket, and Watering Can
This is me decked out in a California Native Plant Society t-shirt, jeans, boots, gloves, and a hat ready to plant some Monterey pine seedlings.

In addition to typical tree planting concerns like not planting too close to the house and avoiding locations beneath power lines, we also needed to consider deer trails and vole highways. Deer cruising through the yard could easily crush a 12” seedling and voles tunneling underground dig up anything in their path and toss it aside.

We decided to plant the seedlings in groups spaced far enough apart so that they can grow into mature trees but close enough that they would have buddies nearby. In some cases, we planted the seedlings near decaying tree stumps in hopes that this will protect them from trampling by deer or even wild turkeys.

One thing I realized almost immediately is that I will need to put some kind of marker near the tree groupings because as soon as the grasses grow to more than a foot tall, it will be hard for me to locate them so I can check on their progress. In the past week, we have had several inches of rain and the tree seedlings seem happy, so far so good.

I am looking forward to Rick’s class on propagating Monterey pine seedlings from seeds. I have a spot picked out next to my pots of native plant seeds.

You Can Plant Trees, Too

Planting trees is an act of love towards people and the planet.

Even though it is winter, there are many places where planting trees now make sense. If you live in one of these milder climates, please consider taking action by planting a tree seedling or several seedlings. If you are hunkering down in a cold and snowy place, perhaps you could select the type of tree you would like to plant in the spring and put a photo of it on your refrigerator.

If you do not have a yard or do not want to plant a tree in your yard that is okay, there are plenty of other places that need trees such as playgrounds, parks, common areas, city streets, community open spaces, and forests. Find a tree planting opportunity in your area and go plant some trees.

You can still help even if you are not able to plant a tree or do not want to do it. Consider making a financial donation to a tree related nonprofit, offer to help organize a tree-planting event, or volunteer to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies for the people planting trees.

Fortunately, you do not need to wait for Mother Nature to toss a seed at you to get your attention. If you are reading this, she already has your attention so go plant a tree.

Featured Image at Top: Twenty Monterey pine tree seedlings in pots lined up on the curb of our driveway awaiting planting.

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Arbor Day 2018 – Join Millions of Tree Enthusiasts

You can contribute to Earth’s beauty, clean air, and clean water by planting a tree.

I love planting trees because they are beautiful and unique—like people. On Arbor Day, have fun and do something worthwhile by planting a tree.

Arbor Day is in its 146th year demonstrating that Julius Sterling Morton’s annual tree planting day idea is ageless and calls us to action just as effectively today as it did on April 10, 1872. On the first Arbor Day, over a million trees were planted in Nebraska and a new tradition began that now encompasses the world.

If you are interested in reading about the history of Arbor Day, the Arbor Day Foundation, or how the oak became the United States national tree, you may enjoy Arbor Day 2013 – Plant a Tree. If you are looking for information about why trees are important, consider reading Arbor Day 2017 – Hug a Tree, Plant a Tree.

Why is Arbor Day a Good Day to Plant a Tree?

The sheer number of organizations hosting tree-planting events on or near Arbor Day makes it easy for you to get involved. Enter the name of your town or county and “Arbor Day” into an Internet search window and then select an activity that appeals to you from the list of results.

In many cases, all you need to do is show up or sign up and then show up. Groups looking for volunteer tree planters will usually provide the trees, tools, and at least one person to direct the work. They may also offer food and entertainment for after the work is done. Arbor Day tree planting activities are a great way to get outside with your family and friends and do something that is good for people and the planet.

Tree-planting projects can be small or large. Perhaps your children’s school is planting trees for shade around the lunch area. Maybe your apartment complex has an area perfect for a lemon tree (get permission from the landlord). A local park may be looking for people to help plant trees to beautify and cool the park. A community that has suffered a fire or flood would probably appreciate extra hands to help replant areas where the trees have been lost. State and national parks are often seeking volunteers to help replace trees that have died from fire, drought, or disease.

Another option, if you have a yard, is to focus your energies on planting trees at home. That is what I do.

Planting, Growing and Protecting Trees at Home

We moved from Southern California to the Central Coast ten years ago. Our yard is mostly wild and receives a lot of furry and winged visitors. About five years ago, my spouse and I began a land restoration project around our home with the mission to encourage native plants and trees, discourage invasive plants, and rebuild the soil’s health so it can retain moisture, prevent erosion, and provide nutrients for the plants and trees.

Planting and protecting trees is an important part of our informal and ever-shifting master plan. Flexibility is key in our yard because many trees and plants volunteer to grow wherever their seeds land. For instance, we leave Monterey pine and oak seedlings and carefully weed whack around them in the dry season. However, brooms and thistles are dug out and put in the green waste bin because if left to their own devices they will take over.

We plant most of our trees either in April around Arbor Day or in December as part of our buy one, plant two Christmas tree tradition. Here are a few tree stories.

Avocado Tree

We planted our first avocado tree seedling sometime in 2012. My avocado loving spouse had grown the seedling from a pit from an avocado we bought at the farmers market. Unsure as to whether deer would eat it or not, we planted it in the small fenced-in area behind our house (a former occupant probably had a dog). In the early days, we periodically hiked up the hill with a watering can to give it a drink. It grew slowly.

In 2013, for Arbor Day we planted a second seedling grown from another farmers market avocado pit. Unfortunately, I had unknowingly selected a location near a vole tunneling project and they dug it up. It could not be revived.

My spouse grew another avocado seedling that we planted in a different location for Arbor Day 2014. About the same time, the first avocado tree received an unwanted haircut from a deer. I recounted this incident in my 2014 Arbor Day post. We hand watered the now shorter tiny tree and the new seedling and weeded around them but the seedling did not make it.

Undaunted my spouse grew a fourth avocado seedling and we planted it in the fenced area where it seemed happy but then dried up and died.

You may be thinking this is not the most inspirational tree planting story but it does have a happy ending. The picture above on the right shows the original avocado seedling now as a small tree. Plus it has been joined by three acorns that volunteered to become oak trees. They all made it through the worst of the drought with occasional watering and seem to be working out how to coexist.

Oak Trees

Oak trees grow among Monterey pine trees in the forest and in our yard. I knew oak trees grew slowly but it seemed like the oak trees in our yard were growing substantially slower than a snail’s pace. The oak tree leaves are leathery with pointy spiked edges so we did not think the deer were eating them and we had never seen deer eating leaves on the trees. The trees did not seem to be diseased so we were puzzled.

Until one day in 2013, I was looking out our home office window and noticed a deer munching on one of the oak trees. Aha, deer do eat oak leaves. We had just never caught them at it.

There are mature oaks trees in our neighborhood and of course, in the forest so clearly if an oak tree can get through adolescence to adulthood it can hold its own with the deer.

Fencing in a few oak trees seemed like a good idea. We bought some 4-foot tall wire fencing and posts at the hardware store, then selected five oak trees in different locations around the yard. My spouse reported that hammering the posts into the ground was excellent upper body exercise. I helped with putting the fencing around the posts and closing it with small pieces of wire (we have to open them each year during weed whacking).

To us, the results were miraculous. Protected from grazing deer the trees grew taller and fuller each year.

In the left photo above, you will see part of Monterey pine tree that died later during the drought. The right photo shows a Monterey pine seedling volunteering near the old tree’s stump.

In 2017, we decided to expand our oak tree protection project by enclosing ten more trees, some less than 12” tall. Several of the original trees had outgrown their circular fencing so we expanded it.

California Buckeye and Islay Cherry Trees

I am trying to learn about native plants and trees so last year we joined the San Luis Obispo Chapter of the California Native Plant Society and this year we joined the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. Being surrounded by botanists and native plant gardeners is both daunting and inspiring (I wish I had taken Latin in college).

For Arbor Day 2018, we decided to visit the botanical garden spring plant sale to look for a native tree or two to plant in our yard. I choose a California buckeye tree seedling that is about 24” tall and my spouse opted for a 6” tall Islay cherry tree seedling.

We planted the deer resistant California buckeye seedling in between two protected oak trees and near a tiny coast redwood tree. I am hoping this fast-growing tree will grow quickly and perhaps provide a little shade for the struggling coast redwood I planted two years ago in a spot that is probably too sunny for it.

The Islay cherry seedling found a home next to the stump of a Monterey pine tree that had beautified the area for many decades but died. We hope the old root system will help the Islay cherry with water retention and that it will be company for the Monterey pine seedling growing nearby.

I do not know how long it will take the tree seedlings we have planted to reach maturity or how many years it will take the protected oak trees to grow above deer nibbling height. We may not be living here by then. It does not matter to me because planting and caring for trees is something you do for yourself and the people who come after you.

I hope you will join me and other Arbor Day fans by planting a tree in your yard, participating in a local tree-planting project, or donating a tree for someone else to plant.

Featured Image at Top: Boy sitting beneath a Big Linden Tree Reading a Book – Photo Credit iStock/Solovyova

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