Benefits of an urban forest

Urban forests, trees, make a huge difference in any town or city.

Urban forests, trees, make a huge difference in any town or city.

Trees clean the air, provide shade, privacy, shelter and are can be esthetically pleasing. As long as the buildings and lots are kept up, older neighbourhoods are more visually appealing than the newer ones.

As a rule, developers who create urban neighbourhoods find it easier to strip the land as opposed to trying to develop houses around existing vegetation.

On the other hand, the same developers are usually required to plant a certain amount of trees and or shrubs per house. They must also keep a percentage of the land for parks and public areas. Bylaws in many towns state that homeowners must plant a certain number of trees. All of this helps develop the urban forest.

While this is a good start, it does not ensure that the town, village or city will have a large urban forest. Trees are expensive to purchase and to upkeep and budgets are limited. Creative councils or groups within the towns have started encouraging citizens to contribute to either a Birth Forest or a Memorial Forest. Donated trees are then planted in a given area or through out the town for all the citizens to enjoy. Each municipality handles the donation of trees in a way that works for them. Sometimes the department of parks and recreation handle all aspects of the donations. In other towns volunteers work with the municipality to ensure that trees are donated and planted in appropriate areas.

Before a birth or memorial tree program is started, a well-thought- out-plan needs to be developed. Where will the trees be planted? What variety of trees? Who will maintain the plants? What happens if the tree dies? Will the tree be marked? If so how?

Trees can be planted in parks, streets or along pathways. They need to be planted in an area or environment where they will thrive. A dead or sickly tree is never appropriate. As when planting any tree, care should be taken to ensure that there is room for the tree to develop to its mature size. Trees that are planted too close together will compete for sunlight and nutrients, therefore not live up to their full potential. Trees planted too close to a building, walkway or road will be a nuisance and become a problem for the people that maintain the plants.

Municipalities can, and will, limit the varieties of trees that can be purchased to honour others. Limiting the variety ensures that the plants purchased will thrive in the area. Having a select variety of trees available also ensures a consistency within one area of the park or town. It allows the municipality to avoid weedy or problem trees, helping to keep the maintenance costs down. Some municipalities will either bring in trees at a discount or donate some money to the cause which means it is possible to purchase larger trees. Other municipalities will rely on donors’ contributions. It depends on their budgets and taxes.

If the trees are placed on public land it is likely the town will maintain the plants. When they are placed on private land, plant care is then up to the landowner. Either way, proper planting, and maintenance is essential to keep the urban forest healthy.

Some areas put up plaques to mark the donated trees, others do not. Damage to plaques and maintenance can be an issue. Once a good plan is in place, memorial and birth trees benefit everyone by improving the environment as well as the area’s aesthetics.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at