House & Home

Here's something everyone can do - plant the greenest tree

Pursuing a greener lifestyle can sometimes feel punitive. Like the Ten Commandments, the “don’ts” seem to outnumber the “do’s.” No fun, right?

You shall not use plastic bottles. You shall not drive so fast. You shall not commit your thermostat to comfortable temperatures.

So, instead, this installment of FYI’s Greener Living series is one big do: Plant trees.

The benefits are practically incalculable. Actually, said Helene Miller, Missouri Conservation Department urban forester, a study of the 415,000 trees along Kansas City’s streets valued their benefits to the community at $51 million.

“That’s just the street trees, and that’s every year,” said Miller with the Discovery Center in Kansas City.

Trees are environmental workhorses.

They intercept storm water, reducing the need to tame it in more expensive ways, and filter dust and air pollution. Their shade even makes asphalt streets last longer.

Trees also shade homes and other buildings, of course, reducing energy use, which saves resources and in turn lowers power plant emissions. Trees provide habitat that allows birds and other wildlife to thrive.

But some trees are “greener” than others, particularly in our urban and suburban settings. How’s that?

Tree-planting is greenest when the types of trees chosen are those likely to grow to maturity without sucking up extra resources in the process, said Kim Bomberger, forester with the Kansas Forest Service.

Trees have a lot to contend with around here.

The soil around our homes isn’t usually ideal, sometimes because of poor practices by developers and also because of high clay content. Then there are 100-degree heat, zero-degree cold, wind storms and extended dry spells.

Dennis Patton, horticulturist with Johnson County Kansas State Research and Extension, recommends asking three questions when picking “greener” trees to plant.

Is it disease- and insect-resistant?

As much as you might like a Scotch or Austrian pine in your yard, for instance, those trees are in decline or dying across the metropolitan area. You want a tree that will grow to maturity and one that doesn’t need lots of chemical intervention.

Is it durable?

Softer-wooded trees often drop small branches and can lose bigger limbs in storms, requiring cleanup and disposal. They may grow faster, but the benefits are quickly lost to wind damage.

Is it drought-tolerant?

Young trees need watering, but established trees should require little or no supplemental irrigation.

But remember

“There’s no perfect tree,” Patton said. “Every tree has some quirky thing about it.”

Another green consideration: What role will the tree play in the yard?

Some smaller trees are placed near the house or with other plantings to pretty up the place, which adds value to property. But homeowners also can place trees for environmental duties.

To generate shade:

Plant large deciduous trees on the west side of the house, from 20 feet to 25 feet from the building. Farther away and you’ll lose the canopy effect that protects against summer heat.

To screen the wind:

Plant trees as a windbreak to protect glass doors and other parts of the house exposed to cold winds. Winter heating bills can be cut by 10 percent or more.

As great as trees are, many scientists and other environmental experts are fed up with the idea that planting trees, which store carbon, “offsets” the profligate consumption of resources.

That is: Burn, baby, burn, then go plant a tree.

Trees that shade and screen reduce fossil-fuel use, and that reduces carbon-dioxide emissions. But trees can’t suck up enough carbon to solve our greenhouse gas problems. For that we need to — you guessed it — cut down on plastic water bottles, drive slower and adjust the thermostat, to name a few.

Meantime, go plant a tree.


We asked foresters Kim Bomberger and Helene Miller and horticulturist Dennis Patton to recommend tree types that can handle our climate and resist disease without requiring extra resources. They agreed to this starter list, with a mix of small, medium and large trees. More recommendations and trees to avoid | F8Japanese tree lilac, Syringa reticulata

: Small tree with long, wide clusters of creamy white flowers in June, satiny bark.

Shantung maple, Acer truncatum

: Medium size with leaves that start reddish purple, turn glossy green, then yellow-orange-red in the fall.

Chinese juniper or Eastern red cedar, Juniperus chinensis/ Juniperus virginiana

: Fast-growing and dense evergreen, great screen or windbreak.

Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba

: Very large tree with fan-shaped leaves, slow-growing, gold color in fall, plant the male (fruit stinks).

@ Go to

and click on “choose the right tree” for more inspiration.


Our experts suggest avoiding trees prone to disease, bugs and storm damage.

Ash,FraxinusAustrian pine, Pinus nigraBoxelder, Acer negundoBradford pear, Pyrus calleryanaCottonwood, Populus deltoidesEuropean white birch, Betula pendula Lombardy poplar, Populus nigraMimosa, MimosaPin oak, Quercus palustrisScotch pine, Pinus sylvestrisSiberian elm, Ulmus pumilaSilver maple, Acer saccharinumSilver poplar, Populus albaWillow, Salix


This is a special episode in FYI’s yearlong Greener Living series. We are extending the environmental call to the whole community:

In October, plant a tree. Everybody.

And when you do, tell us about it. What tree did you choose and why? Is it disease-resistant and drought-tolerant? Where did you place it? Send your tree story and a picture to

along with your name, daytime telephone number and city of residence. Please include “tree” in the subject line. You could be part of our “challenge update.”

To help you choose a tree and the location, foresters Kim Bomberger (left) and Helene Miller are standing by to answer questions. So before you start digging, e-mail your questions to



The Heartland Tree Alliance needs volunteers for public tree planting events with area parks departments. The next one is 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 11 at Platte Ridge Park near Platte City. Free breakfast and lunch. To register, call 816-561-1061, Ext. 110, or send e-mail to treemail@bridging

Get even more involved by becoming a “Tree Keeper.” Take a volunteer training class that starts Oct. 7 at Burr Oak Woods Conservation Nature Center, Blue Springs. In six two-hour classes and two field trips, learn about tree identification, urban soils and planting and pruning techniques. The fee is $25, and graduates are asked to offer 24 hours of volunteer service caring for young trees on public property. Those who complete the service get a “Tree Steward” T-shirt. To register call 816-561-1061, Ext. 110.


Natural lawn care At the beginning of the summer, we challenged the Solomon-Holland family of Kansas City, Kan., to a sizable checklist — techniques for environmentally friendly lawn care.

“It was a good challenge for us,” said Julie Solomon, who shares lawn duties with her husband, Mark Holland. “We wanted to be better stewards outside.”

Here are their results:

1. Get a soil test: check

. Holland said the test showed their soil had enough phosphate, so they bought an organic fertilizer that was phosphate-free and that came close to the nitrogen and potassium levels recommended by the test.

2. Accurately measure the lawn: check

. About 6,000 square feet.

3. Fertilize organically in proper amounts: check

. With the measurement, they discovered they had been using nearly twice as much fertilizer as needed.

4. Maintain grass at 3 to 4 inches long: check

. Adjusted lawn mower for highest cut.

5. Let clippings fall back into the lawn: check.6. Don’t scalp lawn edges with a line trimmer: check

. Holland held the trimmer for a vertical rather than horizontal trim.

7. Spot spray, if at all, rather than broadcast herbicide: check

. “It takes longer to do it that way, but it seemed to work,” he said.

8. Dig weeds by hand: check


9. Aerate lawn in September: check

. Holland paid $35 to rent a core aerator for two hours. “It wasn’t a major time commitment. And it was easy.”

10. Overseed in the fall: check

. Accomplished over the weekend.

11. Water only 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches a week, if at all: check

. The wet summer helped them refrain from watering altogether.

12. Get lawn mower blade sharpened every 10 hours of use: oops

. It was sharpened before the season but not during. “I’m going to do better,” he said. “Although it might be like promising my dentist I’ll floss more.”

Extra credit: Switch to an electric lawn mower.

“No,” he said, “but I did order a Ford Escape hybrid So that should be partial credit, right?”


Got a tree or plant that looks sickly or needs maintenance but you’re not sure how to proceed? Call the Master Gardener Hotline at 816-833-8733


Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City have lots of personal experience and have completed an extensive horticulture course through the University of Missouri Extension.

Calls are answered 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday through Oct. 31, then 9 a.m. to noon Wednesdays only from November to February.


Serviceberry, Amelanchier x grandiflora

: Small tree with white spring flowers, summer berries that attract birds, brilliant fall color of golds and reds.

Eastern redbud or Oklahoma redbud, Cercis Canadensis/Cercis canadensis texensis “Oklahoma”

: Small tree with early purplish flowers, heart-shaped leaves, Oklahoma variety better in hot locations.

Hedge maple, Acer campestre

: Medium size, good for small lawns, yellow-green in the fall.

Swamp white oak, Quercus bicolor

: Large, stately shade tree, sturdy, acorns relatively small, fall colors not great.

Kentucky coffeetree, Gymnocladus dioicus

: Large shade tree, new leaves tinged pink, handsome bark, large pods but fruitless variety available.

Northern red oak, Quercus rubra

: Very large and fairly fast-growing, sturdy, russet to red leaves in the fall.

@ Go to

and click on “choose the right tree” for more recommendations.

@ For more stories in our Greener Living series, go to


Do you have a gardening question? Check out the KC Gardens page at


Buying greener clothes Dara Sims threw herself into our green clothes-buying challenge with a few constraints: She’s taking 18 hours of college courses, working at an accounting job and serving a political internship this fall.

So Sims, 25, doesn’t have bundles of time or money for shopping.

“I got crazy busy this month,” she said.

We challenged her to find some garments made from alternative fabrics, such as bamboo and organic cotton. She went to the Internet to save time.

Searching took her to

, where she found a 100 percent organic cotton shirt for $8 and a P.E. T-shirt that was a blend of organic cotton and recycled plastic for $9. The organic cotton piece had a satiny feel she really liked and the blended shirt had a soft, vintage feel, she said.

Sims also found an American Eagle shirt online that was a bamboo blend and bought it with a 20 percent-off coupon. She didn’t like the feel of it as much, “but I think it’s softening as it gets washed,” she said.

We also challenged Sims to try her luck at thrift or resale shops and to put together a “clothing swap.”

First, Sims did a clean sweep of her closet. She made a pile to take to a resale shop and another for the clothes swap.

With a bag of jeans that were too big and some shirts and hoodies, she headed to Arizona Trading Co. in Westport. She ended up with a shirt for her brother, sold her extras and walked away with $25 cash, which nearly paid for the new tops bought online.

The clothes-swap party is in the works, Sims said. At the University of Kansas, she found 10 women interested in participating. They’re planning an October swap.

“They’re all into being environmental,” she said.

One big lesson from the experience:

Read clothes labels carefully, Sims said. The packaging might use terms such as “natural,” but check the fabric content to see if the maker used alternative fabrics and at what percentages.

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