Health conscious people are aware of the human connection to the plants living upon this earth, and how vital plants are to our very existence. We know that the environmental health of where we grow our food has a direct impact on the quality of the food we eat and therefore a direct impact upon our health. We are also quite aware that the future of our planet is dependent upon the health of the planet’s forests. Besides the great forests and food producing farm lands, there is another area where plants grow that directly impacts our health: the plants growing around our homes.
The role that our landscape plants play in our lives is often overlooked. The trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers that grow right outside our doors have far more value in our lives than most people give them credit for. It seems that most people appreciate the beauty of a nicely planted and maintained yard, but the benefits go far beyond the aesthetic value of a nice landscape.
The first and most obvious is the benefit of shade trees. A well placed shade tree reduces energy consumption by reducing the need for air conditioning in our homes. Trees also reduce the amount of reflective heat from solar rays bouncing off city “hardscapes” such as roadways, buildings and walkways, thus mitigating the heat island effect found in cities. Trees and shrubs can also provide windbreaks and play a significant role in filtering chemical and particulate pollution from our air. They also provide privacy screens and buffer our homes from the noise and light pollution of nearby traffic and commerce.
Landscape plants provide enormous benefits to our emotional wellbeing. Studies show that views of outdoor plants cause prison inmates to feel calm and relaxed and can also reduce stress and anxiety in employees who work indoors. Research found that convalescing patients recover faster, with reduced need for pain medications, when exposed to a view of a lovely landscape.
Our landscapes offer us numerous health benefits. Therefore, it is vital that we return the favor by ensuring that our landscapes are kept in optimal health. People have a lot invested both financially and emotionally in their landscapes. Most people do not plant a “temporary tree,” with hopes it will only survive a few years and then die. When we plant a tree, we envision a time in the future when it provides cooling shade where we can relax below its lovely broad branches and dense foliage. Yet many frustrated home owners have discovered that having a healthy landscape requires more than plunking a couple of plants in the ground and adding water.
Trees and shrubs, like people, can suffer stress and stress can cause plants to succumb unnecessarily to disease and insect infestation which can weaken or kill the plants we love. Much of the environmental stress that plants suffer is unavoidable: late frosts and exceptionally hot summers, for example. Unfortunately, the majority of plant distress comes from the care they receive, or lack thereof. It is the caretaker’s responsibility to provide proper irrigation and practice general maintenance on a routine basis. Home irrigation systems that seem “worry free” to homeowners are often not appropriately designed or scheduled to provide landscape plants, especially trees, with adequate water; water is the single most important resource for plants in our dry climate. Improper pruning practices also have devastating effects on trees and shrubs and can render them weakened and vulnerable to disease and insects. Sadly, many “professional” landscape management companies have little if any knowledge of how to correctly prune plants for optimal health.
Most landscape plants in our area are not native and are therefore growing in an “unnatural” environment. Consequently, they are absolutely dependent upon us and the resources we provide in order to survive and thrive. If you have questions regarding how best to care for your landscape, calling the local University Cooperative Extension office is a terrific place to start. They have a wealth of information available. If you have specific concerns about plants in your own yard, such as a sick tree or a tree that doesn’t seem to grow properly, you can also seek the advice of a Horticultural Consultant or Certified Arborist who specializes in consulting and disease diagnosis. A trained professional can advise you on how to properly care for your landscape plants so that they can provide you with years of healthy enjoyment.
Harris, R.W. Arboriculture: Care of Trees, Shrubs, and Vines in the Landscape. Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1983.
Kahn et al. Journal of Agriculture and Social Sciences 1: 69-70, 2005.
Ulrich, R.S. The Role of Trees in Well Being and Health. Proc. 4th Urban Forestry Conf., pp 15-9 St. Louis, Missouri, 1985.