As any long-time Santa Monica resident will tell you, our summers are getting hotter, our winter rains are getting scarcer. (How much is Santa Monica’s climate changing? Read More here).

Trees are one of the most effective ways Santa Monica residents can combat climate change.  There is also correlation with increased tree canopy and lower temperatures, as well as cleaner air and less crime. Unfortunately, across the country, city tree canopies are shrinking due to natural disasters, disease, and other factors. In addition, lower income neighborhoods are seeing less canopy coverage and therefore higher temperatures.

The problem of canopy loss has become so large that the City of Santa Monica (along with cities across the nation) are seeking help from residents. Luckily, it’s one of the simplest and most effective climate change solutions we can all take part in!

How do trees help combat climate change?

Trees naturally absorb carbon dioxide as well as other global warming emissions that are released by cars, gas-powered equipment like lawn mowers and leaf blowers, beef production and power plants. In turn, they release oxygen into our air. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that asthma rates are at an all-time high. As the most prevalent chronic disease in childhood, asthma affects one in every twelve Americans. By planting trees, we help reduce pollutants that trigger asthma and other respiratory diseases. People living in polluted urban areas are far less likely to be hospitalized with asthma when there are lots of trees in their neighborhood.

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Trees also help cool the air and reduce temperatures because they provide shade. They also engage in “sweating”, (evapotranspiration), which lowers temperatures. Shade and evapotranspiration alone can reduce summer peak temperatures by 2-9℉!

Santa Monica: Let’s get planting!

Below are a few ways to bring trees and all their benefits into your life. If there is very little space and no way to accommodate even a small tree, consider a large bush or hedge. Live in an apartment? No problem! You can still contribute to increasing our tree population!

  • If your curbside/parkway area is lacking trees or has any diseased trees, call the City’s Urban Forester via the City Hall hotline at 310-458-8411. Here is a designated tree-planting map for 2019 and 2020. If your street is not included in either of these plans, check out the City’s designated plans for upcoming years
  • To provide feedback and input for the City’s urban forestry planning, you can attend meetings at the City’s Urban Forest Task Force, which meets six times a year, the fourth Wednesday of every month, usually at the Santa Monica Main Library. For more information, visit the Santa Monica Urban Task Force’s website.
  • Even small spaces can accommodate trees. Whether you own or rent, walk around your property to see which space(s) make sense for plantings. Tall bushes are also a great option if a space cannot accommodate even a small tree.

    For a list of tree or bush species with specific height and sun requirements, visit your local nursery or use the online Las Pilitas directory. Some wonderful options for small spaces are the Mountain Mahogany which acts as a beautiful low-water privacy hedge, Toyon, Coffeeberry, and many varieties of Manzanita. (Choosing plants that are native to southern California and which have “low” water requirements means less maintenance than plants from other regions, thereby reducing or eliminating your need for water, fertilizers and pest control. By planting natives, you’re also providing food and habitat for our local birds and other native fauna.)
  • Fruit trees are also a great option if you’d like to further enjoy the benefits of your trees. Choose organic when buying. A few extra dollars is worth the healthier variety you’ll be feasting on for years to come.
Manzanita is a great option
Photo from Las Palitas Directory

A few tips for planting:

  • Use planting instructions to understand the growth habits of the tree and guide you both while selecting as well as during planting to determine how far apart to place each plant. Trees and bushes should be spaced based on their height and width at maturity.
  • Plant in the fall: Again, follow planting instructions. Ideally, you’ll want to plant during dormancy and when plants can receive regular watering. Any tree or bush will want regular watering the first 2-3 months, until it establishes. 
  • Mulch: Use mulch around the base of your new plant to minimize water needs and provide slow-releasing nutrients into the soil. Mulch also invites beneficial worms and small soil insects that help keep your soil aerated and healthy.

If you are not able to plant trees on your owned or rented property, consider donating your time or money to a local tree-planting nonprofit organization. One local group that has been championing tree canopy increase in the Los Angeles area for over three decades and which has wonderful volunteering opportunities is Tree People, located in Coldwater Canyon.

No matter where you live in Santa Monica or how much time and money you have to invest in tree plantings, there is something you can do to help increase our city and county’s tree population. If we want to thwart climate change and clean up our air, all capable citizens can and should be active citizens.  Planting trees is a great option.

A beautiful Magnolia Tree, a common species in Santa Monica

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