When most people first imagine growing a garden to feed themselves, their minds wander to a vegetable patch heaving with tomatoes, perhaps a bunch of carrots dangling from a fist, or some cucumbers meandering up a trellis. That’s all well and fine. Growing our own vegetables is a worthwhile venture that can provide a sense of self-empowerment, therapeutic benefits, and food to boot.
However, in the scheme of gardens, annual vegetables take a backseat to perennial crops, and many would argue that the undisputed champion of perennials is the tree. When the space allows, we should grow them. There are hundreds of varieties of dwarf trees that can fit in our suburban and urban backyards, yielding to the square footage many of us lack. Our choices of trees are vast and varied.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, let’s discover why trees are the ultimate additions for a productive garden.
Trees Improve the Soil Around Where They Are Planted
Trees are amazing in that they have evolved to be more or less self-sustainable. One of the major ways they self-sustain is by dropping organic matter right where they need it: above their roots. Trees mulch themselves, and this mulch decomposes to provide plenty of nutrients. It also protects the soil from drying out, absorbing and covering moisture. It provides a habitat for healthy soil life; from microorganisms, to burrowing insects and worms, to intricate networks of mycelia. Beneath a tree, there is the potential for an entire ecosystem to develop and thrive.
Trees Provide Habitat for Plants and Animals
Let us not forget the wonderful feeling, on a hot summer’s day, of reaching the shade cast from the outstretched branches of a tree. People are not the only species that appreciate it. Many plants require a bit of relief from the sun. Many animals — birds, squirrels, insects, etc.— find shelter amongst the leafy nooks. Where there are animals, there is then manure, which provides fertilization, and often the animals do a lot of free, all-natural pest control. With a tree, there is the potential for creating microclimates that suit all sorts of plants, which means that they provide us with many ecological niches to create a diverse garden.
Trees Provide a Massive Harvest with Much Less Labor
Not to say that a fresh tomato from the garden isn’t worth the work, but there are lots of delicious things that grow on trees as well. Tomatoes are delicious, but they require a lot of time, care, and energy (both from us and the planet). On the other hand, trees work slow and steady, growing up into low-maintenance productive marvels. For example, one semi-dwarf apple tree that will fit on most suburban lawns can provide up to 500 apples in a season. What’s more is that it’s productive for somewhere around 20 years. That’s a lot of food!
Trees Help Us Regulate Water and Retain Soil
While water is a necessary and magical thing that nature provides, it (or a lack of it) can also equate to a wildly destructive predicament. Too little water can result in dehydration, but the branches of trees help to shield moisture from evaporation, keeping the humidity level up and creating a space in which plants can stay hydrated. On the other hand, a deluge of water can cause serious erosion, but trees also help us in this situation because their roots span out and cling to the soil, making it tougher to wash away.
Trees Are Fantastic for the Environment
Whether it’s the fact that they provide a habitat for animals, microclimate niches for other plants, or plenty of fodder for humans and animals, trees significantly impact the environment around them in a positive way. This positive impact extends to the global level as well. One of our main human offenses that is causing climate change is undoubtedly our felling of vast amounts of forests, usually burning it up and putting that carbon right back into the air in unheard of quantities. We can all remember from science class that trees take in carbon, naturally sequestering it from the atmosphere, and release oxygen, which improves our air quality.
So for those of us looking to install a garden or improve our garden spaces, trees are an A-plus option worth considering.
Lead image source: Takver/Flickr