Good to Grow: Feeling anxious about strange weather? Go plant a tree

By By Alex Cole
Good to Grow
F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail ¬ Thursday's snow put a dusting on one of the flower schulptures along Kanawha Avenue.

The weather has been very strange, and it’s making me anxious. There, I said it, as a way of introducing myself, I just wanted to get that off my chest.

I’m not talking about anxiety in the Chicken Little, “the sky is falling,” sort of way. I feel more like Forrest Gump getting on the school bus. Unknown surroundings, the situation is a little unnerving; so I’m going to tell you a little about myself, and we’re going to move on from there.

Hi, my name is Alex Cole, and I, more than anything, am a gardener.

There, we’re not strangers anymore.

If you talk to me too long, I start talking about trees. I am a tree guy. We are lucky in West Virginia they surround us. Look around you right now. Look out the window. Trees all around. How are we so blessed? Wherever you are in the state, the oldest thing you see is a mountain, and the second oldest is probably a tree.

Trees have roots and branches, both equally important, no doubt, but roots have been on my mind lately. Roots are what ground us to this place. They are what nourish us through the winter and support new growth whenever that growing season decides to come.

Now, it has been an odd winter to say the least. There has been some bluster, hot air and the winds seem a little more violent somehow. There is uncertainty as to what all of this means. Anyone who predicts what will happen next is a fool.

So what is my gardening advice? Go outside. Walk around your yard. Go into the woods. Assess the damage.

Survey the fields, so to speak. See what needs to be done, pick up the gloves and go do it.

This is a pep talk. Gardening is a peculiar habit of humans. We don’t just adapt to our surroundings, we adapt our surroundings to us. Perhaps it is what got us this far.

We have the power to influence our environment. Our spheres of influence, though small individually, added together create the world we live in and the world we leave for the next generation.

So there is work to be done. We have to get back to the garden. How do we do that?

My first suggestion, of course, is to plant a tree. Set down some roots. Make it an edible one if that strikes your fancy. No one has ever said, “This place has too many apple trees.”

Maybe you don’t want to maintain a fruit tree. Is your backyard patio inhospitable in August? Are you tired of paying AEP to run the air conditioning all summer?

Plant some shade trees around your house, especially on the south side. There is a reason old farmers planted oaks and maples around their homesteads.

Maybe you live on a creek and erosion is an issue. Perhaps last year’s floods affected you. Plant some fast-growing willows, sycamores or elms to hold back the fast flowing waters.

Have a perennial wet spot in your yard? Plant a burr oak, weeping willow or a cottonwood.

Live on top of a mountain in a particularly windy spot? Plant a row of white pines, cedar or spruce to your north and west as windbreakers.

Every tree has a purpose. Trees create microenvironments of shade, food and moisture, allowing other plants and animals to thrive. Think of the thousands of species you are helping. The birds, the pollinators, the tree frogs, all the way down to the lichen on the branches and worms around the roots benefits from the shelter and safety of a good tree.

All that said, don’t get cocky. In all my years of landscaping, the No. 1 thing I have to remind people is, don’t fight Mother Nature. She will always win.

Working with nature is much easier and ultimately more rewarding.

Don’t clear any land you don’t want to mow, don’t make any beds you don’t want to weed and don’t build anything you don’t plan to maintain.

People have a tendency to want control. Control is beyond our capabilities. Cold weather may come and take your favorite crepe myrtle. A big storm may come and knock down your shade tree. A late frost may wipe out your best fruit trees.

But we have evolved to roll with the punches; we know how to adapt to our environs and adapt the environs to us.

I hope you follow me and these articles as I make my humble suggestions on just how we should work together, set down roots and make West Virginia a better, more beautiful place to live.

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