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It grows on trees Mighty oaks, graceful maples and flowering cherries help homeowners boost property values, save money and help the planet

Homeowners often plant trees to enhance the appearance of their property. Well-kept trees can beautify a yard immensely, with lush foliage adding color and texture to create an eye-catching landscape.

"For a lot of people, trees are nice to look at," said Paul Maurer, executive director of ReTree Western New York, the grass-roots program to replant the trees lost to the October Storm of 2006. "People plant first for the aesthetics, and trees have a calming effect. Looking at them makes people feel better, and it makes an entire neighborhood look better."

But Maurer and other local experts said the benefits of trees aren't pleasing just to the eyes but also to the wallet.

Properly placing, planting and maintaining trees can lower energy costs and increase property value. The financial benefits of landscape trees, including health and environmental, tend to be three times greater than the cost of the trees themselves, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Services.

"We love trees for their beauty, but when we see a tree in a yard, that tree is working hard for us," said Mark Derowitsch, public relations manager for the Arbor Day Foundation. "It gives us energy savings and makes us healthier by improving air quality and other environmental benefits. It's a great thing to plant trees."

And Arbor Day -- which is this Friday -- is a great time to plant them. With the sluggish housing market, which tree growers rely on, it's also a great time to buy them.

"It's really a consumer's market," said Russell Gullo, owner of Russell's Tree and Shrub on Transit Road in East Amherst. Because trees are largely not valued beyond their ability to spruce up a yard, they're seen as a luxury, Gullo said.

Sales slowed by 30 percent as consumers cut back during the recession. A tree that would have sold for $200 a few years ago now goes for $160.

"Trees are not seen as a necessity, so we had to lower our prices," said Gullo, whose company grows 4,000 trees a year. "Trees are the last thing homeowners tend to think about; they don't realize how important trees are."

National studies have found a healthy, mature tree can make enough oxygen to support 10 people. It also is a "carbon sink," absorbing greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, for cleaner air, Maurer said. Trees also remove dangerous chemicals and waste from the soil and reduce storm water runoff by retaining water in their leaves.

"Trees are a very good hedge to global warming," Maurer added.

Studies also show full-grown trees that are properly cared for can raise a property value by 7 percent to 19 percent. According to the USDA Forest Service, each large front yard tree can add 1 percent to a house's sale price.

With the median price of a Buffalo home at $51,000, large trees can raise the value by $5,000 to $10,000, Maurer said.

"If you're buying a home, you'll be attracted to homes with nice landscaping," Gullo said. "Trees frame the home, giving the property the 'wow factor.' "

Well-placed trees that shade property can save homeowners up to 56 percent on annual air-conditioning costs, and evergreens that block wintry winds can reduce heating costs by 3 percent, according to the Forest Service.

"Putting taller trees on the east- and west-side corners of a house cuts heating and cooling," Derowitsch said. "They reduce heat absorbed by buildings and shade the sunny parts of your house, so air conditioner works less."

In the winter, tall trees, especially conifers around a home, operate as windbreaks.

"There will be less air seeping into your home and cooling it down," said Derowitsch. "You'll need to have a pretty good size yard and large trees; they can noticeably slow down the north winds in the winter."

To fully enjoy the money-saving benefits of trees, "you can't just throw up any tree and hope it grows and go on with your life," Maurer said. The type of soil, size of property, power lines above and water pipes below should be considered before buying and planting a tree.

"The right tree in the right place," an online guide, located at www.arborday.org/trees, can provide homeowners assistance on selecting the right spot to plant their trees.

Proper landscaping, planting, species selection and maintenance are also key in growing healthy trees.

"You can't put an oak where a gingko would be better off," Maurer said.

On ArborDay.org, people can also enter their ZIP codes and get information on the best trees for their climate zone.

"You want to make sure the tree can grow well in your area," Derowitsch said.

When planting trees, homeowners tend to dig too deep and plant the roots in clay; trees then die from too much water.

"Keep the tree higher and basically it won't die," he said. "High and dry." He said other common missteps are surrounding trees with too much mulch and overwatering.

Gullo said to keep the mature height of the tree in mind when deciding on a location, so they are not too close to property or wires.

Over the years Larry Tuttle, a longtime landscaper and manager at Russell's, has seen many bad tree choices and placements. He has had to remove many that had sprawling branches encroaching on windows and gutters.

"You have to plan before you plant," he said. "Do your research. Know the growth potential of the tree, so you don't have problems in the future. If you plant a spruce, eventually it'll grow wider and taller."

Maple, oaks and locusts are popular landscape trees because they are native to the area. But homeowners have a wide selection of species to choose from, Gullo said. And even the area's urban dwellers can fit trees on their smaller lots by planting narrower trees, like the Armstrong maple and hornbeam.

"Of course you're not going to plant a palm tree here," he said. "But you can grow trees that are found in most places on the East Coast."

Trees that are locally grown to be sold here are better acclimated to withstand the Western New York weather, Gullo said. Western New York homeowners are advised not to plant ash trees because the emerald ash borer has been ravaging that species. Instead, experts encourage growing different varieties of trees so if one becomes unhealthy, the disease won't spread to other trees.

Trees can cost roughly $69 to $239 and are sold by caliper -- the diameter of the trunk. The wider the diameter, the bigger the tree. Homeowners typically purchase 2-inch caliper trees, usually about eight to 10 feet tall and costing about $169. Anything larger is difficult to handle without professional help.

"A homeowner is going to get that investment back very quickly, especially if the trees are planted in the right place," said Derowitsch. "They'll see the savings in a few years."

The timetable on a decent return can vary depending on the growth rate of the tree. Silver maples and

crabapples, for instance, are among the trees that reach maximum height quickly.

"It'll take roughly four to five years to get a tree you can sit under in your lawn chair in the summertime," Gullo said.

While Arbor Day is a good day to plant a tree, Derowitsch said any day is ideal. Planting can even be done in colder months as long as there's no frost in the ground.

"The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today," he said. "You want to plant trees right away; they start working hard the moment you put them in the ground."

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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