Trees play a vital role in the environment.

Trees produce oxygen with their leaves and help filter the air. Their leafy canopy can slow down the rain so that when it gets to the ground more soaks into the soil.

A forest can act like a giant sponge reducing the amount of water that ends up in storm water, creeks and rivers after a heavy rain.

Trees use a lot of water for their growth. In the summer, they provide shade and can cool the air around them.

Trees help reduce erosion and stabilize streambanks. Not only do trees help protect our water quality but they also provide food and shelter to a wide variety of animals.

Certain native trees provide native bees with an important food source, especially in the spring. Oaks, maples and willows are important pollen sources in the early spring as they bloom before many of our native wildflowers.

Service berry, black cherry, eastern redbud and flowering dogwood are also good trees to plant for the bees. The flowers of American linden are also attractive to bees as are the fragrant blossoms of sourwood.

If you are interested in attracting more birds to your yard, add trees! Beyond the obvious reasons, native trees provide food for many species of native caterpillars.

Many of our native birds rely on caterpillars to feed to nestlings. No caterpillars equals no baby birds.

Those caterpillars are soft and squishy and high in protein, very easy to shove down the throat of a hungry baby bird. Other insects have hard exoskeletons, sharp spines and pointy legs, making them harder to feed and eat.

Parents need to find a lot of caterpillars to raise their young and they don’t have time to go very far. Trees are large so mom and dad don’t have to fly so far.

One baby chickadee needs between 6,000 and 9,000 caterpillars to grow enough to leave the nest. It eats even more after it leaves the nest.

Native trees provide this much needed larder.

Even native trees vary in the number of caterpillar species that they support.

The grand champion, when it comes to supporting the biggest variety of lepidoptera species, is the Oak (Quercus) family. Oaks have the potential to support over 500 different species of butterfly and moth caterpillars.

Other powerhouse caterpillar factories include willow (Salix), cherry/plum (Prunus) and birch (Betula) all coming in at over 400 species. Poplar (Populus) and crabapple (Malus) are in the 300 range with maple (Acer), elm (Ulmus), pine (Pinus) and hickory (Carya) in the 200s.

If you only have room for one tree in your yard, consider one of these. If you have room for more, plant a variety of trees to increase your yard’s diversity.

Trees even have a positive effect on the environment after they have died.

Our instinct is to remove a tree from the landscape once it’s dead. Obviously, we don’t want to leave one that could endanger people or property, but dead trees offer food and shelter to insects and animals.

Fallen logs can provide homes to native bees, beetles, tree frogs and salamanders. Some animals will hibernate in the rotting wood.

Eventually that log will decompose, and the nutrients will be added back to the soil. Tree cavities, which can be found in live and dead trees, provide safe homes to a variety of birds and mammals.

Trees play an important role in the environment, regardless of whether they are part of a forest or growing on a city street.

Just like any other plant in your garden, picking the right tree for your site will help ensure your success.

Look at your trees as a long-term investment. Many trees will outlive the person who planted them — white oaks have a life span of 300 to 400 hundred years!

Pick a tree that is suited to your hardiness zone and will survive the winter. Do some research on how tall and wide the tree will be at maturity. Don’t create a problem for someone 30 years from now by planting it too close to the house.

Do you want a tree that is going to drop its leaves in the fall or one that will stay evergreen?

Pick a shape. Some trees have a narrow growth habit while others need room to stretch.

How fast does the tree grow? If you are looking to create a screen, you’ll want something that grows fast.

However, fast-growing trees tend to have shorter lifespans than slower growing trees.

Match the tree to your site — consider sun, soil and moisture availability.

Does the tree have messy fruit or seed pods? Nobody wants black walnuts dropping on their car in the fall.

Make sure you look up before you plant your tree. Are their overhead wires that the tree will grow into?

Do your research before you bring a tree home.

Pick a tree that is native to your area. It can have a great impact on the birds, bees and other insects that depend on native plant material to complete their life cycle.

Not sure what is native to your county or state? The National Wildlife Federation has a website that can help.

Enter your zip code and it will create a list of plants, trees included, that are native to your area. The website also ranks them according to the number of butterfly and moth species that use the trees as host plants for their caterpillars.

It’s available at www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/

Don’t wait to plant a tree! \

This Chinese proverb says it all: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

Have a gardening question? The Master Gardener office is open,

Please wear a mask when visiting the Cornell Cooperative Extension office and check in at the reception window.

Master Gardener volunteers are normally in the office Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. until noon. You can stop in at the CCE office at 420 East Main St. in Batavia, call (585) 343-3040, ext. 127, or e-mail it at: geneseemg@hotmail.com.

Each year the Genesee County Soil & Water Conservation District holds a conservation tree and shrub seedling sale. A variety of evergreen, fruit, softwood, and hardwood bareroot seedlings and transplants are available.

Orders are due March 10. They will be available for pick up in mid to late April.

Orders are filled first come, first serve while supplies last. Please contact SWCD with any questions at (585) 343-2362 ext. 5.

Our next Garden Talk will be at noon Thursday via Zoom. Join us to learn about “Sunflowers!” with Master Gardener Brandie W.

Sunflowers are a bright and cheerful addition to any garden. They are easy to grow from seed in almost any type of soil and can be sown in succession for a season full of colorful blooms.

Sunflowers can be grown for cut flowers, a colorful garden display or even for edible seed; for you or the birds.

Whether you want short, medium, or tall; yellow, burgundy or orange, there’s a sunflower for you.

Garden Talk runs from noon to 12:45 p.m. This free series is open to all.

Registration is required. Visit our events page at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Genesee County website http://genesee.cce.cornell.edu/events.

A Zoom link will be sent to your email with your personal link to the event.

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