How your garden tree can contribute to climate change

The meticulously trimmed Vanilla Strawberry Hydrangea is a pretty sight on a summer day.

But it’s not really a tree, is it? Even if a growth spurt takes it to two meters, the ornamental is a poor substitute for a towering maple, or an oak, or those extraordinary tulip trees.

And yet we see family lawns devoid of trees; others that feature a single seemingly nifty hydrangea with its pretty panicles.

Obviously, not all landowners buy into the We’re-All-In-This-Together mantra. By this we mean working together to densify the city canopy for the benefit not only of the city, but of the planet.

A point to keep in mind: about 55% of the city’s more than 11 million trees grow on private property. And this: the greatest amount of permeable potential planting area is on single-family residential land. The city’s tree canopy survey, revised in October 2021, indicated about 5,200 hectares of residential land lying in wait for, say, a white oak tree.

Not surprisingly, available planting space on non-residential land, ie public land, is steadily shrinking. Consider condominiums. Think concrete. We say a little prayer for the honeysuckles that line the tram tracks in the hope that they will survive another extreme salt winter and a long term future of extreme climate change.

What is surprising is that 57 of the city’s 140 neighborhoods experienced a decrease in canopy cover, especially in the northern and western neighborhoods of the city.

Trees are climatic workhorses, we know that. But we may not know that at least 60% of the carbon stored in Toronto’s urban forest is stored by trees on residential lots.

The city’s focus on urban forest growth and maintenance has resulted in incremental improvements: canopy cover was recorded at 28.4% in 2018, up from 26.6% in 2000. But – there is always a but – that 2018 figure is actually a slight decrease from 2014. And reaching 40% is where we want to be.

We are not doing a good enough job.

Federal initiatives include Canada’s commitment, announced in 2019, to plant two billion trees over a decade. That’s what drew primatologist Jane Goodall to Sudbury last month, joining Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in planting the 10 millionth tree as part of efforts to re-green the region. It’s all for the best.

But we are repeatedly reminded that urbanization could see two-thirds of the world’s population living in cities by 2050. Global initiatives include the United Nations Economic Commission for the Environment’s Trees in Cities Challenge. Europe. The UN not only reminds us of the power of trees to mitigate the effects of climate change, from cooling the temperature to promoting biodiversity, but highlights the ways in which the pandemic has made it all the more urgent to ensure the optimization of the urban forest for the benefit of all.

Conclusion: there is a nature-based opportunity to deal with climate change.

The city seems to be doing its part. But as the canopy report notes, “The extent to which the city can influence the maintenance and replacement of trees on private property is limited. At the same time, residential areas present some of the greatest opportunities for maintaining and expanding the city’s tree canopy.

Seizing this opportunity couldn’t be easier. Whether it’s requesting that a city tree be planted on a property’s right-of-way or enlisting the non-profit organization LEAF to explore backyard options for low fees.

Soon the days will cool down into fall, perfect for planting. September 21 is National Tree Day. How many of us know there is a national tree day? We can collectively make a difference. We can collectively grow Toronto.

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