Trees and beautiful environment, nature’s inestimable gift for prolonged life

Posted by Chima Nwafo | 17 August 2019 | 581 times

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•Chima Nwafo

Beautiful architectural buildings by modern real estate firms are springing up in our major metropolitan areas – but that has not translated to healthy tree-adorned and landscaped environment. Just as a tree cannot make a forest, these isolated private estates can only add to the beauty of a well-planned urban habitation with gardens and play grounds. But somehow, aesthetics and creative town and country planning are of little importance to the relevant ministries and local government departments.

Yet, there is a mad rush by the privileged few to acquire every available space in the major cities. They manipulate town-planning authorities and developed properties according to their personal standards, while roads and highways lack drainage and walk-ways and conveniences. The same apply to shopping plazas. The outcome is the prevalence of good structures in unplanned and environmentally unhealthy neighborhoods; a predilection for massive concrete structures without gardens.

And to complete the circle, corporate bodies and educational institutions show little regard for landscaping and planting of flowers. Among universities, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife; Babcock University, Ilisan and Crawford University – both in Ogun State – feature tree-lined streets and gardens, just as some few foreign-owned pharmaceutical companies stood out with healthy landscaped premises.

If a hungry man – as skeptics argue – has no time to think of physical aesthetics, why can’t the few wealthy ones appreciate the beauty of a decent environment? Why do the modern rich Africans prefer massive concrete jungle type of edifices to the spacious, well-planned and tree-adorned Government Reservation Areas (GRAs) of the colonial era? Why do ministries and local governments despise plants and landscaping? Activities of land speculators make them more of undertakers of decent environment than real estate developers. The less than 2 per cent corruptly controlling more than 80 per cent of the nation’s wealth are running the affairs of state in total disregard for worrisome local and global environmental signals. To them, “money answereth all things.” But the Bible also makes it clear that wisdom has an edge over money: because it preserves life.

Despite our collective nonchalance, experts keep sounding warnings about the pollution of our common surroundings by the activities of man – green house gas emission, air pollution, gas flaring, industrial pollution, among others – all of which contribute to the climate change and heat-waves. They also point to what we can do as individuals or nations. Even though they have well-planned and beautifully landscaped cities, they are improving on their centuries’ old designs, while we are destroying what nature has given us.   

According to a recent feature article in CityLab, “heat-waves are one of the world's most underestimated threats, killing more than 12,000 people every year around the world - more than any other weather-related event. And heat is especially dangerous in cities, which tend to be much warmer than surrounding less-developed areas. On top of that, cities tend to have higher levels of air pollution, which contribute to more than 3 million deaths every year. With 70 per cent of the world’s population predicted to live in cities by 2050, heat and air pollution constitute a major public health concern.”

As experts identify the cause, they also proffer solutions: “One relatively simple solution to this problem? Plant more trees in cities. Trees cool the air by casting shade and releasing water vapour, and their leaves can filter out fine particulate matter (PM): one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution, generated from burning biomass and fossil fuels.”

Given the environmental concerns of burning biomass and fossil fuels, should we not have been more disturbed? For example, Particulate Matter is explained as: “The sum of all solid and liquid particles suspended in air many of which are hazardous. This complex mixture includes both organic and inorganic particles, such as dust, pollen, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Created by both natural and man-made causes, particulates impact the earth's climate, precipitation levels and can have substantial negative impact.” In Nigeria, this is generated by our traditional way of life – bush-burning, subsistence farming methods, cooking with charcoal and kerosene, burning of waste materials, among others – besides the non-stop gas flaring in the Niger Delta.

Further on climate change as it affects the individual, Dr Stone in his book, The City and the Coming Climate: Climate Change in the Places We Live, posited: “Cities are heating up at double the rate of global climate change with major implications for human health, including an increase in heat related deaths and an increase in ground level ozone. Managing urban heat is just as important a response as reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the benefits will be felt much sooner.” Stone’s research shows that cities should prioritize strategies to reduce both heat and GHG emissions, and trees and green infrastructure are at the top of that list. This is understandable because as cities develop, trees and vegetated areas are reduced, natural surfaces are paved, and buildings are constructed. In our clime, houses are built the way the landowner wants it, not according to international best practices. The resultant effect and ugliness stare us in the face nationwide. So, the need for planning and tree planting in the urban areas cannot be over-emphasized. Again, this should not be a haphazard assignment for political jobbers and landscape amateurs.

Besides town planners, environmental and sustainability experts, core professionals required for successful tree planting and beautification projects are gardeners, landscape architects and aborists. While gardening is the practice of growing plants and can range from tending to a single plant to an entire garden with a variety of plants, landscape design is the art of organizing and enriching outdoor space with plants and structures for aesthetic and/or practical purposes; arborists specialize in maintenance of the space/plants, as they use hand and power tools to prune, hedge and remove trees. They are adepts in keeping trees healthy, planting trees or landscaping. Arborists may work both in an office setting, designing park layouts or planning new planting as well as outside, trimming and shaping trees. The activities of landscape architects can range from the creation of public parks and parkways to site planning for campuses and corporate office parks; from the design of residential estates to the design of civil infrastructure and the management of large wilderness areas or reclamation of degraded landscapes such as mines or landfills.

Nearly 200 years after, only three or four universities offer Landscape Architecture in Nigeria, and it is at master’s level. Such is the case because the society, including the universities, corporate bodies, and governments at all levels do not appreciate the importance of the profession.

The Texas, United States, Trees Foundation which developed a geographic information systems-based model to assess the overall urban tree canopy cover for the city of Dallas and examined potential planting locations also, through its Forest Service, suggested how to plant a tree in 12 easy steps:

Select the right tree for your location

Use a tree that will grow well in your part of the state and make sure it has plenty of room for the canopy and roots to grow

Dig the hole at least twice as wide as the root ball, to keep the roots from settling too deep while still allowing them to penetrate the surrounding soil

Fill the empty hole with water and check the drainage, if it takes longer than 24 hours to drain, select another site because a tree will die if its roots are underwater for long periods of time

Prune the tree sparingly and only if necessary, removing even a small portion of healthy canopy actually slows root growth

Set the tree in the hole with the root collar (just above the roots) flush or slightly above natural grade, planting too deep is a leading cause of mortality in newly planted trees Don’t pick up the tree by the trunk, always handle by the container or root ball

Remove all foreign materials from the root ball: this includes wires, twine, cords, containers and non-biodegradable bags, if planting a tree with roots wrapped in burlap, remove as much of the burlap as possible as this allows water to seep in and the roots to grow out;

Gently fill the hole with the same soil that came out of the hole: settle the soil with water as packing the soil damages and breaks fine roots

Stake the tree only if necessary: consult a professional if staking is required and stakes should not be left in place more than one year.

Mulch around the tree, at least out to the drip line, two to three inches deep, and up to but not touching the trunk: mulching keeps soil temperature fairly steady, boosts soil moisture retention and keeps weeds at bay, organic mulches add nutrients to the soil as they decompose

Water the tree for at least the first two years, but don’t over water: a newly planted tree requires six to eight gallons of water for every diameter inch of trunk per week, thorough soaking is much better than light, frequent watering

Protect the tree from animals and humans: staking to the ground a wire-mesh cage at least three feet in diametre and four-feet tall can keep deer and livestock from eating your tree, it also can safeguard your tree from weed whackers, which can easily kill your tree;

Do not fertilize the tree during the first growing season, as too much nitrogen will burn tender roots, slowing growth and delaying establishment.

This is enough to guide states, local governments and private and public institutions interested in well-planned, landscaped and beautifully designed urban layouts and campuses adorned with trees in strategic locations.

•Nwafo, Consulting Editor, News Express/Environmental Analyst can be reached on; +2348029334754.

Source: News Express

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