When my wife and I moved into our house in Lakewood, the front yard was completely void of trees. The house sits on a north-south street, and the living room picture window faces directly west. Needless to say, the living room baked in the light of the summer afternoon sun! We did not want to spend extra money on air conditioning, so we decided to speak for the trees! And let them grow! In the first year, we planted a sugar maple and red maple in our front yard and a tulip poplar and sugar maple directly north of the house. In the back yard and south side yard, red oaks and pin oaks sprouted from acorns from nearby trees. I protected many of them with tree tubes or fencing to keep the deer from eating them and just sat back and watched them grow.
After several years, our front windows and much of the front wall of the house are now shaded from direct sunlight from mid-afternoon until sunset. Trees on the east side shade the house in the morning. Our living room and bedroom stay much cooler than they did twenty years ago, and we rarely need to use an air conditioner. With this 20+ years of growth, we have tree crown covering roughly 80% of our property. This keeps our yard and home cooler and more comfortable all summer long.
Have you thought about planting more trees in your yard to keep your house shaded on hot days? The ambient air temperature difference between an urban heat island and a vegetated area can be as much as 10 degrees. The temperature measured directly above man-made surfaces can be as much as 25 degrees hotter than the air temperature beneath a forested area. Planting trees to shade your home can really cool your yard. Not only that, having trees may add thousands of dollars to your property value. Trees and shrubs grow in many shapes and sizes. Planting a many-tiered garden of native wildflowers, shrubs, small understory trees, and taller climax canopy trees can maximize the habitats for a variety of beneficial insects and birds in your yard.
Native sugar maples, oaks, black cherry, white pine, hickories, walnut, butternut, cucumber, and tulip poplars are good trees to plant in well-drained yards. Red and silver maple, cottonwood (where room allows), black willow, and American sycamore are suited for wetter waterfront, floodplain, and topographic depressions. Quaking aspen, big tooth aspen, and birch are fast growing native species that can quickly provide screening and cover in your yard. American hop hornbeam, American hornbeam (ironwood), American mountain ash, and Amelanchier (serviceberry) are some smaller or mid-tier trees to fill in spaces between larger trees or other tighter spaces. Turning part or all of your yard into a “mini-forest” can also have great benefits to birds and other wildlife. There are many sources from which to find more information on what native trees and shrubs to plant including www.chautauquawatershed.org/native-plants, www.audubon.org/native-plants, and www.nwf.org/garden. Go to a local nursery and ask specifically for native trees.
Fall is a great time to plant trees! The combination of cooler temperatures and fall rain allows trees to establish their roots early in spring and adjust easier to the heat or drought of summer. If you want to do one thing to help birds and insects, protect water quality, capture carbon dioxide from the air, then plant a tree native to our region! Plant one new tree or transplant a wild native tree seedling to a more appropriate location in your yard to make your yard and home more enjoyable, and cooler, in future years!
by John Jablonski III, Special Projects Coordinator for Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy