Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

First Wednesday Challenge: Why Trees Matter and Why We Ought To Care

I started to write about the loss of trees in my neighborhood and as alarming as that is to me I was struck by something that is far more important. People are living where there is little or no tree canopy. Imagine no trees when you step outside. That is true for seventy percent of Americans who are now living in urbanized areas where their proximity to trees and nature has greatly diminished. That means that when someone steps outside there is no shade to play under or to protect them from summer heat. There are no trees to help them get healthier. There are no trees to gather under and visit with friends. There are no trees to make the neighborhood feel pleasant or attractive. Observational research has shown that cities without trees are prone to more violence and health issues


Add to this that many of the 70% living without a close proximity to nature are living in low income neighborhoods. The good news is that more cities are now engaged in adding trees to their canopy and hopefully, they're planting trees in low income neighborhoods, too. 


North Nashville tall skinnies and no trees

 The photo below reflects Tree Equity studies in several Nashville neighborhoods. Trees are critical urban infrastructure that are essential to public health and well-being. The Tree Equity Score was created to help address damaging environmental inequities by prioritizing human-centered investment in areas with the greatest need. To find out your city's score follow the link.(source)

Many of the studies linking trees with improved health are observational. "Observational studies are ones where researchers observe the effect of a risk factor, diagnostic test, treatment or other intervention without trying to change who is or isn’t exposed to it." (source)

Autumn color in canopy trees

Scientists and other researchers are also engaged in experimental research to explore, beyond observational studies how trees affect physical and mental well-being. This is exciting news to me and I am hoping that research studies like this will convince the Nashville city council (and other cities) that we need to protect our big canopy trees from development. According to the Urban Tree Canopy Assessment, Metro Nashville's tree canopy declined by 674 acres. We're also loosing trees to Emerald Ash Borer at an alarming rate. I'll be taking down at least two trees that could fall on my house if left untreated. Deciding to treat them is a huge and often expensive decision. They need to be treated before they're infected and taken down before they're in danger of falling.

Small trees like American Hophornbeam are perfect for planting along streets, too

Those of us who garden with nature in mind know how valuable trees are to wildlife. It's clear to us that trees are more than pretty things for our landscapes. Native canopy trees and understory trees support the life cycle of many species. They're keystone plants that are crucial to the food web and necessary for many wildlife species to complete their life cycle. Without keystone plants in the landscape, butterflies, native bees, and birds will not thrive and neither would we!

Here's my probably incomplete list of the many ways trees are valuable:

  • They clean the air we breath
  • They help fight climate change
  • They provide oxygen
  • They cool streets and neighborhoods
  • They conserve energy
  • They slow water evaporation
  • They reduce water pollution, runoff and erosion
  • They shade children while they play ( reduce UV-B exposure)
  • They provide food for humans and birds and animals
  • They provide shelter, nesting and 
  • They help us heal
  • They can sooth our frazzled nerves
  • They help reduce fear and violence in neighborhoods
  • They reduce noise (blocks interstate noise)
  • They bring people together when planting them
  • They help promote healthy soils
  • They provide homes for critters
  • They provide beauty in a concrete gray city
  • They provide property and commercial value to homes, neighborhoods and cities
  • They provide economic value, jobs, etc.
  • They provide spiritual value 
  • They can reduce crime if the right trees are planted in the right way

What can we personally do to help trees:

  • Keep them healthy
  • Contact our city government to let them know you want trees protected
  • Join your neighborhood association in lobbying your local government to protect trees
  • Donate money to organizations that plant trees in neighborhoods
  • Join tree support groups in your city and state 
  • Plant native trees on your property 
  • Pay attention to areas in your city that have no trees. Lobby for them to get trees.
  • Ask congress to support and advance tree planting bills
  • Ask the EPA to invest in trees
  • Ask Secretary Pete Buttigieg to prioritize Tree Equity

Local metro Nashville organizations that support trees:

Root Nashville

Cumberland River Compact 

Nashville Tree Conservation Corp 

Nashville Tree Foundation 

Tennessee Environmental Council 

Urban Forestry Recommended trees for Nashville

Metro Tree Advisory Committee


Trees are valuable to all of us. We all deserve to live where we have access to nature.  Simply put trees have the power to heal us, soothe our frazzled nerves, help us feel safe, clean the air we breathe, make neighborhoods more livable, and, mitigate climate change. 

My hope is that as the scientific research continues our city and state governments will embrace the value that trees bring to our quality of life and invest in planting more in our communities. xoxogail


Here's a recap of what the First Wednesday Monthly Challenge is all about.

Want to Take the Taking Care of Wildlife In Our Gardens Challenge?

The first part of this challenge is to do something, even lots of things each month that support the critters living in our gardens. Gardening with native wildflowers, shrubs and trees that make sense for our ecoregion is a good place to start or continue (as the case may be). Plants and their pollinators are a classic example of mutualism: they have coevolved through evolutionary time in a reciprocal beneficial relationship. This is also true for other critters that visit and live in our gardens. 

Activities that increase our knowledge of the natural world are equally as valuable. Helping others learn about nature is included. Golly gee whiz, there are so many things you can do. 

The second part of the challenge is to post about it somewhere: Your blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or even your neighborhood listserve. Wouldn't an article in the local paper be a coup for nature! Why post it? Because positive publicity is needed to educate our friends, neighbors and communities about how important even the smallest changes we make as gardeners can be for pollinators, birds, insects and mammals, including humans, that live all around us. 

Why now? My neighborhood is changing. Yours might be, too. Every day an older home along with many (if not all) of the mature oak, hickory, maple, Eastern cedar and hackberry trees are cut down. Insects, birds, even mammals lose their home site and food supplies when we lose trees. During construction soil is compacted by bulldozers, trucks and piles of debris cause runoff; surface runoff that can carry pollution to streams and rivers. It's important that our neighbors and our community have information about how important trees are to our ecosystem. Trees contribute to their environment by providing oxygen, improving air quality, climate amelioration, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife.

In place of the "bee lawns" composed of Claytonia, Salvia lyrata, Ruellia humilis, fleabane, Western Daisy, Violets, self-heal, clovers, native grasses (in my neighborhood it's poverty oat grass) and sedges, they're being sodded with non-native grasses. These monoculture turf lawns contribute nothing environmentally. Here's what we lose when our diverse lawns are replaced with pristine turf grass:

  • Gone are the lightening bugs.
  • Gone are the ground dwelling/nesting native bees.
  • Gone is the habitat for insects, spiders and other critters. 
  • Gone is plant diversity. 
  • Gone are trees that provided for hundreds of moths, butterflies and other insects.
  • Gone are the nesting sites for woodpeckers, hummingbirds, Chickadees and other birds. 
  • Gone is a healthy foodweb.

 It breaks my heart. 

We can't stop the progmess, but, maybe we can make a lot of educational noise and help our new neighbors see the value in providing for critters and ultimately helping the environment.

A gardener can hope! 


Here's an incomplete list of things you might consider doing or changing in your garden, and things you can do for and/or in your community. But don't limit yourself to my list, make your own list or check out the internet for ideas.


Looking for ways to get involved go here for a list of environmental advocacy groups.

Buy the best wildflower, butterfly and bird id books for your state.

Read nature books to your children and grandchildren. Buy them nature books.

Get in the garden with your children and grandchildren.

Give nature books as baby shower gifts (Nature books for infants and toddlers)

Shrink your lawn and make your planting beds larger.

Plant your favorite native perennials and shrubs. Leave them standing after they've gone to seed to continue to provide for wildlife. What you plant in your yard makes a difference to wildlife. I garden for wildlife so every tree, shrub and plant is chosen with wildlife in mind.


Plant more natives and then consider planting even more. "A typical suburban landscape contains only 20-30% native plant species. Try reversing that trend in your own landscape by using 70-80% native species." (source

Plant for bloom from late spring to early winter. Bees are most active from February to November (longer in mild climates) late winter blooming Hamamelis vernalis and the earliest spring ephemerals (like the toothworts, hepaticas, spring beauties, and False rue-anemeone) are perfect plants for a variety of pollinators.

Commit to never, ever, ever, ever using pesticides in the garden.

Stay away from native plant hybrids and cultivars that are double flowered. They are sterile and have no pollen or nectar for insects and no seeds for the birds. If possible plant “true open-pollinated native wildflowers”

If you want to garden for wildlife and pollinators, don't let lack of space stop you! Plant your favorite wildflowers in large containers. You just might have the prairie or woodland garden you've always wanted...in a pot!
Create a water feature. Provide water year round that is accessible to birds, bees and other critters.

Make a rain garden in low spots to collect and mitigate runoff.

Show some soil! Our native ground nesting bees nest in bare soil, so don't mulch every square inch of your garden. 

Get rid of the plastic weed barriers in your garden, it's not good for anything.

Invite bugs into your garden. Plant annuals that attract beneficial bugs.


Learn to tolerate damaged plants. Imperfection is the new perfect.

Don't be in a rush to clean up the fall garden. Leave plant stalks and seed heads standing all winter. Leave those fallen leaves or as many as you can tolerate! Insects over winter in the fallen and decaying leaves. Leave a layer of leaves as a soft landing material under trees for moths and butterflies to over winter. Many caterpillars drop to the ground from the trees in the fall and need a soft landing site and a place to live over the winter.

Allow a fallen tree to remain in the garden. Limbs on the ground are a perfect shelter for small animals such as rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels and a habitat for beetles, termites and other insects.

Make a brush pile. Stack fallen brush, cut tree limbs, broken pots for ground beetles. Ground beetles are excellent at eating "bad bugs". Bugs are also good bird, toad and small critter food. 

Rethink what you consider a pest. Lots of good bugs eat aphids. Spiders are important predators and they're great bird food!

Add nesting boxes for birds. 

Turn off your yard up-lighting, eave lights and porch lights after 11pm. This is important for nocturnal critters including mammals, snakes, insects, bats, birds (especially during migration). (Birdcast suggestions)

Plant shrubs and small trees that provide berries and nuts.

Keep a nature journal: You can observe visitors to your water feature, make note of when they visit. Notice which flowers attract the most pollinators and which ones are just pretty faces. 

Join your state native plant society (Tennessee Native Plant Society)

Join WildOnes even if there's no local group you can join the national organization.  (Middle Tennessee WildOnes)

Support your local native plant sellers. (GroWild in middle Tennessee, Overhill Gardens in east Tennessee,  Resource Guide TN Native Plant Society)

Encourage your local garden clubs to offer native plant talks.

If your garden club has a plant sale encourage them to sell more native plants.

Get trained as a naturalist (Tennessee Naturalist Program. Almost every state has their own Master Naturalist training program

Take an online course on tree, fungi and wildflower id. 

Take an online course on designing with native plants.

Take a walk in your neighborhood and observe nature. To quote Joanna Brichetto in Sidewalk Nature "Look Around. Nature is here, is us, our driveways, our baseboards, parks, and parking lots."

Read! There are hundreds of books on gardening for wildlife, the environment, and rewilding our world. There are delightful blogs with wonderful and informative articles.

If you are already gardening with wildlife in mind then add a few signs that help educate your neighbors. (Xerces Society, Pollinator Partnership)

Join the Xerces Society.

Set up an information station where neighbors can pick up brochures about your garden and other info. 

Get certified (National Wildlife Federation, check to see what your state offers)

Support trees by joining the effort to make sure developers don't remove more trees than are necessary for their project. Work to make sure there are tree removal permits and that they are actually enforced in your community.






Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

1 comment:

"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson