Three generations work together to plant a tree at Crystal River Elementary School. Kindergarteners, Aspen Tree arborists and seniors all do it together. Photo by Illène Pevec

What can we do? 

By Illène Pevec

Special to The Sopris Sun

In Colorado and around the world, devastating fires have burned, are burning, will burn. Droughts dry, high-speed winds blow. Sea levels rise around the globe, threatening entire island nations and our own coasts! What can we do to mitigate these challenges?

We can plant trees! Trees absorb carbon, provide shade, hope, beauty and even fruit! Trees properly placed to shade west windows in summer can cool your home and decrease your electric bill. Trees respire water that returns to us as rain.

Facts: (1) The evaporation from a single tree can produce the cooling effect of 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. (2)You can improve the efficiency of a heat pump by shading it with a tree. (3) Deciduous trees block sunlight in the summer, but allow sunlight to reach and warm your home in the winter — place deciduous trees on the south and west sides of your home or business. (4) Trees can shade hard surface areas, such as driveways, patios, buildings and sidewalks, thus minimizing landscape heat load — a build up of heat during the day that is radiated at night resulting in warmer temperatures. Ideally, 50% of the total paved surface should be shaded.

How do we decide what tree to plant and where to plant it? Native trees suit our climate and provide habitat for our critters. Blue spruce, Douglas-fir, bristlecone pine, ponderosa pine, Rocky Mountain juniper, quaking aspen, narrowleaf cottonwood, plains cottonwood and Gambel oak all occur naturally here and can thrive in our yards and around businesses and public spaces.

If you want a non-native shade tree, check what its watering and soil needs are before you plant it. We have alkaline soil and dry conditions. Notice what fruit trees are thriving in your area. Our cold springs mean that quite often the fruit flowers freeze and we don’t get fruit, but some years we get bumper crops.

Don’t put an evergreen on the south side of your house or it will block the benefits of winter sun. Evergreens can keep your house warmer by blocking winter winds, but they can also make sidewalks icy with their dense shade if you plant them on the north side of your home too close to the sidewalk.

It’s hard to imagine a small young tree reaching its full height, but you need to do that imagining when you plant a tree so that it has enough room to grow and not cause unforeseen problems. A cottonwood drops a lot of branches in high wind so it needs to be placed away from your house.

Tree planting can be a family event to honor a birth, a death, a birthday! Trees can be a community event to bring together nonprofits, individuals and companies with schools! Senior Matters in Carbondale just partnered with Aspen Tree Service to plant nine trees at Crystal River Elementary School. What a joy to see the children plant a tree with adults and share what they are learning about trees. What can we do? We can plant trees!