Living

Cultivating Tree Seedlings

We live in a neighborhood with a lot of trees – deciduous trees like maples and cottonwoods and of course the big three of the Pacific Northwest – the Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and the Western Red Cedar.

Last year, I found two seedlings in my yard and planted them in some left over pots.

A Douglas Fir Seedling – 2 years old

This year, I’ve found dozens of them. I believe that they are Douglas Fir seedlings based on some internet research and the fact that the giant tree next door is a Doug Fir. I found others in the neighbor’s yard and in a narrow parking strip are probably Western Hemlocks. Since they have planted themselves in places where they will never have room to grow, I dug up a couple of the Western Hemlocks and planted them as well- just to have some variety. I don’t think I’ve found any cedars yet.

A few Douglas Fir Seedlings

I can’t let them grow in the yard because they will undermine the foundation of the house and the roots are likely to get into the pipes. However, I don’t want them to go to waste either. So, I’m cultivating them. First I used leftover planting pots with some spare dirt. Next, I bought 24 compostable / plantable pots to make use of even more of them. I got in touch with the city about planting them when they grow up a bit more, but they let me know that they will need to be larger to be accepted for city programs. 

Planting trees isn’t going to solve climate change- the simple reason is that trees lock up carbon (about 50% of their mass, well over 3,000 pounds for a full size tree) while they are alive, but the carbon dioxide mostly returns to the atmosphere when they die and rot away. A small amount on average is likely to get locked in the ground and eventually turn into coal, but this is on a timescale that makes it virtually irrelevant to our climate problem today. I’ve read that perhaps charring and burying wood (terra preta) is potentially a method of pulling carbon out of the atmosphere, but I don’t expect that to happen with my seedlings. Rather, they will become part of the urban canopy that gives our city its nickname, lock up carbon for a century or more (hopefully) and provide some nice shade in the summer.
Urban forests help to clean the air, filter the water, provide a nesting place for birds, and reduce the overall temperature by reducing the heat island effect. They’re very beautiful too. The Urban Forest Stewardship Plan by the city has a goal of 30% citywide tree canopy cover by 2037 (estimated at 28% in 2016). When my trees grow up I’ll hopefully be able to work with the city to plant them in one of the uglier spaces in my part of the city or the greenspaces filled with deciduous trees and blackberry vines, like around the Burke Gilman trail.

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