The Benefits of Trees

Trees are extremely valuable environmentally, socially, and economically. The environmental benefits of trees include carbon storage, and providing vital habitats for insects, birds, and mammals. Social benefits of woodlands include encouraging outdoor activity, reducing stress, and flood mitigation. The economic benefits of woodlands come the timber and any recreational activities. For trees to have the best chance of survival, it is important to understand how they grow, the signs they are struggling, the right time to plant and prune, and how to protect them.

How Trees Grow

Just like humans, trees need to breathe to survive. Respiration converts glucose and oxygen into carbon dioxide and water. In a tree, glucose (a form of energy) is created by a process called photosynthesis. Glucose is stored as starch, and this energy will allow the tree to respire and grow.
Photosynthesis occurs in the leaves, turning carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. There are a range of factors for photosynthesis to be successful which include the correct amount of sunlight, water, nutrients, the optimum temperature, and chlorophyll. In addition, trees only photosynthesise during the day in the growing season (spring and summer months), so it is important that trees generate enough energy for the whole year.
The structure of a tree trunk includes heartwood, xylem cells, phloem cells, the cambium layer, and bark. The xylem cells are responsible for transporting water and nutrients needed for photosynthesis from the roots to the leaves. The phloem cells are responsible for transporting the energy produced in photosynthesis from the leaves to the rest of the tree in a process called translocation.
The growing season of a tree occurs in the spring and summer months, in which there are two main forms of growth. The first is primary growth, which occurs in the tips of the roots and branches, and secondary growth is when a tree grows in width. During winter, trees remain dormant waiting for the temperatures to warm up so they can start growing again.

How to Spot Dying Trees

Trees use the energy produced by photosynthesis to complete tasks in an order of priority: respiration, root growth, flower and seed production, primary growth, and secondary growth. When the rate of photosynthesis is too low, the tasks further down the priority list will not occur efficiently, and this can be easily observed.
In Summer, a struggling tree can be recognised by a lack of leaves, or the leaves falling off before Autumn. Other indications of a struggling tree are that the branches and twigs snap off easily, the buds have not formed properly, and there is damage to the bark of the tree. There is also a method called the scratch test to determine if a tree is dead or alive. This involves lightly scratching a small area of bark on the trunk, and if the wood underneath is wet and green then the tree is alive, and if the wood underneath is brown and dry, then the tree is dead.


Tree Pests and Diseases

Pests and diseases can also impact the health of a tree. Below are some examples and links that provide more information on the topic.

  • Ash Dieback, is a fungal disease that causes leaf loss and crown dieback of an ash tree, eventually causing the tree to die.
  • Dutch Elm Disease is a fungal disease spread by elm bark beetles that causes leaves to fall off prematurely, impacts the growth of new shoots, and inevitably causes the tree to die.
  • Alder Leaf Beetles feed on the leaves of alder trees, causing significant defoliation.

When to Plant Trees

The planting season is from November to March. During this time, trees are in a dormant stage (meaning they are storing energy and not growing), so they are less likely to be damaged when they are transported and planted.
The earlier months of the planting season are also the correct time to prune trees and hedges because it creates less damage to the tree and prevents invasions from fungi and other pests. Furthermore, the bird nesting season is from February to August, and it is illegal to disturb a hedge or tree with nesting birds. Therefore, waiting until Winter to trim trees and hedges is easier.

Further Government Guidance on Wild Bird Protection and Licences can be found Here.

How to Protect Trees

The first five years after planting a tree is called the establishment period. During this time, a 1m diameter at the base of the tree should be kept grass and weed-free to prevent any competition for water and nutrients from the soil. Bark mulch can also be added regularly to this area to suppress the weeds. Tree stakes should be kept secure, and watering should be avoided to allow the tree to adapt to the natural conditions.

Further information on how to care for trees in a woodland setting can be found Here.

In Summary

Overall, trees contribute a lot of benefits to the environment and society, but they need to survive in order to bring these benefits. Therefore, understanding the points raised in this discussion is vital to promote tree survival. Trees rely on respiration and photosynthesis to survive and some signs indicate that trees are struggling such as a lack of leaves. Tree health can also be impacted by pests and diseases. As a result, it is important that people know the right time of year to plant and prune their trees, and how to protect trees to encourage their survival.

Trustgreen Projects

If you want more information on projects Trustgreen have organised to benefit trees and wildlife have a look at the Promoting Wildlife Conservation article on the community stories page on our website.

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Community stories

Residents are central to everything we do at Trustgreen. Over the years we’re proud to have hosted many wonderful community engagement projects which continue to have a long-lasting impact on the people who live within those communities.

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