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Trees, trees, and more trees...


Joseph Fearn

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Trees are a well-known part of most landscapes. I can’t think of anyone that hates their trees although several segments of our industry may have a more nuanced relationship with them (think golf course Superintendents and sports field managers). I, however, am a through-and-through treehugger (smile when you say that). Given my connection with trees, I have always planted quite a number at each of my professional stops. Therefore, it was no surprise when in my role with Mississippi State University Campus Landscape my team would participate in some winter tree planting. What was a surprise to me was how many trees we would install. And, while we are still in the midst of this effort, I know at the culmination we will look back with pride and accomplishment at our endeavor.

Why Plant Trees?
Our landscapes are installed and maintained to provide some sort of service. For most landscapes we are usually trying to provide beautification and promote recreation (think sports, hiking, relaxation, etc.).  Fortunately planting trees comes with side helpings of environmental benefit, increasing property value, improving a sense of wellness and even decreasing crime. Mississippi State University is well known for its campus landscape. Of course the trees and campus forest contribute significantly to the overall landscape atmosphere. MSU is also a Tree Campus USA through the National Arbor Day Foundation. Planting trees is an essential component of this program. Tree planting efforts demonstrate a commitment to our campus that reflects not only a present day effort but also a commitment to the future of the university. In my opinion, trees demonstrate clear evidence of dedication to a community and a sense of responsibility to that community. 

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Trees benefit our landscapes in many ways. Arbor Day celebrations are a great way to celebrate trees.

Let's Talk Numbers...
So if someone wants to plant trees, how many should they plant? One way of course is to simply count the number of trees in your landscape and increase the number of trees to add each season/year/planting etc. Another way is to measure canopy cover. Regardless of the method your organization chooses, increasing tree inventory allows for a feel good story which improves organizational pride and team spirit. I suggest that deciding on a number reflects a rational formula reflecting some arboricultural goal and is dependent on factors such as climax ecotypes and carrying capacity, not to mention maintenance dollars. At a previous site I worked at our crew planted over 300 trees on 100 acres (m/l) over 7 years. This was based on our estimates of declining trees heading for imminent removal, and the goal of increasing canopy cover (our canopy increased 14%-19% in 7 years). This winter we will plant nearly 300 at MSU in this round alone. Remember though, no matter the numbers, planting any is better than planting none.

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Planting Trees Never Gets Old
I love planting trees. Truth be told, I love most of the tasks I perform in my job, but the tree stuff is special. There are so many wondrous aspects to trees that amaze me. The mass and scale a tree creates from soil, water and air is remarkable. The variety and complexity of plant structures ranging from bark, to lignin, buds, flowers and nuts, etc. reflects adaptations based on thousands of years of evolution.  Another aspect of trees is the potential longevity. Trees can last decades and even longer if sited and cared for properly. Trees can be used as historical artifacts. By overlapping tree rings an unbroken timeline (dendrochronology) lasting millenium can be created. Tree longevity leads me to hope I might be participating in a landscaping process as long lasting as an Oak tree. Trees are also a critical component of the ecosystem. Many animals and insects live in and amongst trees, not the least of which is humans. Truly, where would we be without all the benefits of trees?

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Well Worth It
This tree planting project at Mississippi State has been hard work. But the opportunity to make a significant impact on the MSU campus is all worth it. The trees we planted this round varied from 3-4" caliper and had root balls 4 foot around. Planting trees this size is challenging whether staging, transporting, or installing. The results have been obvious and outstanding. I call it instant landscape and it is. Our Drill Field is an iconic part of campus and has now been improved via a 44 tree install. 

On February 12 this year MSU celebrated Arbor Day on campus. None less than MSU President Keenum was in attendance amongst many others representing all parts of our campus family, especially students. Several speakers talked of the importance of trees to the financial health of our communities in addition to the other benefits they provide. The “State” trees we celebrated are now part of our campus forest and our MSU Campus Landscape team is very glad to have been a part of it.

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