Planting trees in times of drought

Tree loss in times of drought is a very costly problem: not only in expensive tree removal, but also in the loss of ALL the valuable benefits trees provide!

Our trees not only provide an immense range of health, energy, environmental, and economic benefits, but also play a very important role in managing and reducing drought.

The idea that gardeners should not invest in watering and planting trees and shrubs during times of drought, is a misconception.

…Trees and shrubs CAN be responsibly planted and maintained during drought.

Did you know:

Young, newly planted trees require much less watering compared to lawns; and provide so much more advantages!

Trees, especially drought-tolerant, indigenous species, provide critical services that directly attack some of the consequences of drought.

1. Many trees send out deep, water-seeking roots into the soil to tap into local groundwater and draw it to the surface. This water is redistributed laterally and vertically through the root system in a process called hydraulic redistribution.

In the process of redistributing water along root systems, trees filter water and make some available to plants with shallower root systems; not only helping us in times of drought, but also their other plant buddies!

2. As trees use water during photosynthesis, it is released from the leaves in a process called transpiration, which cools the surrounding air.

In cities this is particularly important, as urban landscapes are made of materials that absorb sunlight and heat more than soils or planted landscapes, making cities hotter than the surrounding.

Planting new trees or keeping the trees in your garden alive during times of drought, helps keep your home cooler, meaning less energy and resources spent on cooling systems and decreased water use in other areas.

3.Tree cover can prevent evaporation from rivers, reservoirs and soil, saving water for drinking and agriculture.

4.Trees protect the land.

Without shrubs and trees, there is nothing to hold down the soil. There is nothing to protect the ground from the hot sun, so the water in the soil quickly dries up. The wind blows away the dry, dusty soil, and thus the drought gets worse.

5. Trees help rain seep into soil.

During floods, trees absorb some of the water and slow down the rain run‑off. Their roots open up the soil and let the water get in, instead of running along the surface. When trees are cut off, floods often increase because most of the rainwater enters streams and rivers in a very short timeframe. Such high intensity flow is often not usable by human beings and usually flows into the ocean.

There are several examples worldwide of governments using tree planting to control floods.

6. Trees and water quality:

The role of trees and forests in managing and protecting water quality is just beginning to be understood by some engineers, planners and community leaders. One of the most powerful statements that help support this came from the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council in 2006 and reads:

‘Forests are the most beneficial land use for protecting water quality, due to their ability to capture, filter, and retain water, as well as air pollution from the air. Forests are also essential to the provision of clean drinking water to over 10 million residents of the watershed and provide valuable ecological services and economic benefits including carbon sequestration, flood control, wildlife habitat, and forest products’.

7. Agroforestry:

is a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland.

Around the world, Agroforestry has been shown to be an effective means of river watershed management.

Studies have been conducted in several places. Indonesia has had a program in place since the 1970s to re-green its watersheds, which are crucial for drinking water, irrigation and other activities that support many of the country’s poorest communities. Besides these ecological benefits, benefits to farmers also include higher crop yields, increased income, resilience to climate change, reduced dependence on natural forests, reduced pest incidence due to birds nesting in trees, and more biomass production.

8. Planting fruit bearing trees:

can give you the benefit of providing food in times of severe drought. But keep in mind that it usually takes several years for the fruit to mature on fruit bearing trees. So planting trees means planning for the future. The trees you plant now will help protect the land from droughts and give you food in years to come.

9. Trees help to maintain local water cycles:

Trees play a very important role in maintenance of local water cycles. Trees hold water, prevent flooding, recharge underground aquifers, and maintain water vapor in the atmosphere, increasing the opportunity for rainfall.

When forests are cut down, the water vapor in the atmosphere disappears in an area, decreasing precipitation and increasing the risk of drought and desertification

By planting trees, some of these negative effects may be reversed

If we want to reap the long term benefits of trees we need to water and care for the trees we already have and plant more trees for the future.

We also need to avoid planting things like large lawns, that waste water and provide no drought benefits.

It’s a sure fact that planting and maintaining trees to help us cope with drought is essential for the long-term health of our cities and towns.

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