Roll up your pants leg

07/28/2011 12:00 AM

11/15/2011 11:34 AM

Mr. B.W. Wiles, Jr., second oldest of 13 children, was a hard-working man. He farmed with mules until the 1960s on land so sandy it grew briars better than anything else. He once remarked that he suspected his brother-in-law was lazy as he once caught him working on his truck under a tree with a fan blowing on him.

Now, there are those of us who think that shade tree mechanics are anything but lazy, and one with enough sense to use an extension cord and electric fan to keep his brain from frying in the summer heat a quality specimen indeed.

Stepping under the shade of a tree gives immediate relief from the blazing sun with a substantial drop in temperature. In the parking lot of my building, drivers circle around the oaks large enough to shade cars, hoping to find a sheltered parking spot.

Trees lose enormous amounts of water through transpiration. Just as sweat evaporates and cools us, transpiration cools the atmosphere surrounding trees, while their leaves shade the ground below.

“The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Larger trees have an even more profound ability to reduce the sweltering heat of a summer day.

Wouldn’t you think we’d value and protect these remarkable organisms which also improve water quality, anchor soils, provide food and shelter for wildlife, and inspire us to write poems about their beauty?

Yet every day I listen to the whine of weed eaters as hurried or over-eager yard tenders attack clumps of grass or weeds that escaped the lawn mower. Many times these stray blades of vegetation are growing next to tree trunks. A few moves with a gas-powered, inefficient and smog-producing weed eater and the area is cleared without a thought of the damage done to the tree.

“Oh, it doesn’t hurt the tree; the bark protects it from damage,” these lawn zealots tell me. My response is, “Well, then roll up your pants and we’ll just weed eat around your leg.” Boy, does their tune change in a hurry, but sadly not their behavior.

Tree bark is a protective structure; keeping insects and disease-causing organisms out and holding moisture within. It is designed to withstand the jaws of beetles and the haustoria of fungi, not the gas-powered centripetal force of plastic string whirling at goodness knows how many revolutions per minute. The lifespan of an urban tree is less than 20 years, and for many the cause of death is trunk girdling from weed eaters.

Fall (remember that long-forgotten season when you dress in archaic relics such as sweaters) will come eventually and is the time to plant trees. That gives you plenty of time to look above for power lines, call the utility locator service before digging, and check with SCDOT about where you can plant near the street. Let me encourage you to read the quotes below and while it’s too hot to do anything else, PLAN to plant trees in the coming season.

“There are about 60- to 200-million spaces along our city streets where trees could be planted. This translates to the potential to absorb 33 million more tons of CO2 every year, and saving $4 billion in energy costs.”

National Wildlife Federation

“No shade tree? Blame not the sun but yourself.”

Chinese proverb

Amanda McNulty is an associate extension agent for the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service and is a co-host of “Making It Grow” broadcast weekly on ETV television stations. Website:

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