Trees provide numerous benefits to homeowners, neighborhoods and cities.

Urban trees serve a big purpose

Trees are a vital component of a healthy urban community that provide a multitude of benefits, including clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat and psychological well-being.

These cool fall days are a great time to appreciate how much trees can help us with energy reduction, as well.

For example, evergreens planted on the north or west sides of your lot can reduce winter heating costs by serving as windbreaks. Deciduous trees planted on the south, west and east aspects of a lot can create shade, reducing air-conditioning costs during the hottest months of summer.

Air pollution control is another way trees help improve life in the city, because trees are fairly effective at removing both solid and gaseous particulates from the air.

Trees reduce storm-water runoff by intercepting, using and storing rainfall. Progressive local governments are increasingly looking toward trees to reduce the costs of constructing storm-water control infrastructure.

Trees add natural character to neighborhoods, screen harsh scenery and absorb and block noise. Trees also provide economic benefits, something to think about during a recession.

Studies have documented that the mere presence of trees encourages shoppers to spend more money in tree-lined business districts. In addition, several studies have shown that home-buyers and real-estate agents assign between 10 and 23 percent of the value of a residence to the trees on the property. Local governments capture some of this monetary value, because enhanced property values increase the tax base.

Trees provide a great return on investment, but usually don't get the credit. That's starting to change. A study in Davis, Calif., estimated that city's trees to be worth $35 million, and a study of trees in Portland appraised their value at $1.1 billion — or $15.3 million in annual benefits to residents.

Mature trees with larger crowns provide the greatest benefits. Just remember, providing enough room for the trees' roots and ultimate height is an important consideration — so take time to select the right site before you plant a tree.

When it comes to maintenance, make sure trees in need of pruning are properly pruned this winter. January or February are good months to take this on.

Avoid "topping" your tree. Topping — the indiscriminate cutting back of tree branches to stubs — is a common but detrimental practice. If you have questions about correct pruning techniques, contact a certified arborist, the Oregon State University Extension Service or the Oregon Department of Forestry's urban forestry program in Salem.

Cynthia Orlando is a certified arborist with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

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