Bezona column: Trees offer serenity in crowded cities

  • Urban reforestation landscaping on the lava flows of north Kona changes the microclimate making it comfortable and attractive as well. (Photo courtesy Voltaire Moise / Special to West Hawaii Today)

Now is a great time to travel even when it comes to big cities. Cities as diverse as London, Medellin and New York have much in common — namely they each have populations in the several millions. They are approximately the same size in square miles as the City and County of Honolulu.

What is remarkable is that these great cities have embarked on major tree planting projects over the last few decades. They also have a past when forward-thinking planners set aside major tracts of land for parks, watersheds and wildlife. Planners know intuitively that we humans need trees to help us keep our sanity. As loud and crowded as these cities are, there are quiet sanctuaries where we humans can reconnect with nature. Each has made tremendous efforts to plant shade trees along the commercial and residential streets. These efforts are especially noticeable in New York City where over one million street trees have been planted in the last 25 years. Honolulu has been fortunate as well, thanks to the Outdoor Circle and community leaders who promoted city landscape projects.

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Our island is almost 10 times larger than these cities with a fraction of the population. We have abundant resources that we often take for granted. Our island is special in that we can grow almost any plant in the many microclimates that exist here. We have some of the most beautiful scenery found anywhere in the world. However, it does take conscious planning, planting and maintenance to bring out the best.

We are fortunate to have the Hawaii Island Landscape Association, a nonprofit organization that serves the Big Island by offering landscaping education and training classes as well as certification for professional landscapers.

Residents often complain that our parks, roadways and businesses do not look well-maintained. Over pruning, lack of fertilizer, lack of water and neglect often cause a run down look where concrete and asphalt dominate. Now is a great time to improve the situation by encouraging local landscape maintenance folks to take advantage of the upcoming HILA training classes starting April 5. Weekly classes through June 6 will cover basic botany, plant identification, landscape planning, turf care, pruning, plant health, pest management, soil and irrigation basics. To register for the series call Ty McDonald, UHCTAHR Extension agent, at 322-4884 or email tym@hawaii.edu.

When it comes to urban landscaping, remember trees are the lungs of the planet. By planting trees, we can actually change the microclimate and make our gardens and community several degrees cooler in the summer. If trees are placed just right, we can even create a garden climate that is warmer and less windy during the cooler season.

It’s really interesting when we expand these basic principles. What happens when everyone in the neighborhood or community plants trees? Well, we can actually change the climate over fairly large areas. USDA foresters have research data supporting the theory that reforestation may increase local rainfall in dry areas and modify temperature extremes. You might say that trees are natural air conditioners. When enough are planted in an area, temperatures remain cooler in the summer. The sun’s rays don’t have a chance to penetrate and heat up the ground. In the winter, those strong trade winds are blocked. The trees keep things cool in July and give protection from wind in January.

The best place to start improving the beauty of the island is right at home. In selecting trees for shade, consider the hundreds of varieties of tropical plants that produce food as well as shade. Depending on your taste, available space for planting, and location, we can grow almost anything.

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There are so many choices that the list is almost endless. Several books are available at local bookstores and garden supply stores. Sunset’s National Garden Encyclopedia is an example of one that is helpful to the beginning horticulturist or the expert.

There are also many publications available through the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service to help you with care and use of some of the plants you might select. These can help in planning your landscape and maintaining it in the proper manner. You may call the UH Master Gardener Helpline at 322-4893 in Kona or 981-5199 in Hilo.

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