Earth week series – 5

The best time to plant a tree is now. The Arbor Day Foundation provides resources to individuals who are interested in doing so, including where to find free or low cost trees in your area and tips about how to plant your tree so it thrive. For those interested in fruit trees are another excellent option. The Giving Grove is one organization anyone can look to for guidance on planting and maintaining a variety of fruit trees.

Want to know the steps of properly planting a tree? Our HTA team will walk you through the process, there are tricks of the trade that might surprise you!




Anchor in the Past, Bridge to the Future: Planting Trees on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day

By Ben Carpenter, Heartland Tree Alliance Program Coordinator

“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and the seeds of hope.” – Wangari Maathai

     Five white pines grew alongside my home when I was young. Taller than the house, they were gray giants with their backs to our second-floor windows and their faces full in the afternoon sun. For a while, their low branches formed a kind of tunnel between the front and backyards. Long days my brother and I sat and played in dull blue light with bare feet buried in a soft, sour carpet of needles.

     We hid treasure at the top of the tallest tree, climbing up the branches along the trunk until it narrowed to the width of our mother’s arm. To the bark we duct taped a water-tight Power Rangers lunch box where we hid the precious loot of child-bandits: a leather backed pocket knife; a strawberry flavored cigar; six silver half dollars; a polished stone from a giftshop near Ithaca. All magic, each representing some obscure hope and plan. Up in the breeze and looking down into the neighbor’s chimney, the crown of a white pine seemed ideal for keeping our stash safe. That is, ideal in the absence of a bank vault or mountain hideaway but these are rarely available to 10-year olds.

     Now I plant trees for a living, along the public right of way between the street and the sidewalk. The Heartland Tree Alliance works with towns and cities throughout the Kansas City metro to protect, preserve and replenish the urban forest canopy.

     It works like this: we ask residents on behalf of the KCMO Parks and Recreation Department if they would like a tree in the right of way in front of their home. The tree is free to them, paid for by the city and planted by us along with a small battalion of volunteers (in times before the coronavirus). All they have to do is agree to water the tree for the first two years of its life in front of their house.

     Shovels in hand, our team works with neighbors, businesses leaders, and volunteers of all stripes to change the street level face of Kansas City. Since 2005, the Heartland Tree Alliance has planted over 30,800 trees throughout the metro, on both sides of the state line, and the benefits are more than aesthetic. Sprawling bur oaks shade sidewalks and create walkable neighborhoods. Towering tulip trees manage the urban heat island effect, reducing energy bills and poor health outcomes associated with heat waves. Even the twisted redbuds sequester carbon and clean our air, custodians of our atmospheric commons.

     Our program’s vision is “stronger communities through healthy trees,” referring to trees as physical infrastructure that makes working, learning, and playing possible on the most basic levels. However, trees also contribute to a landscape in ways that shape a person’s sense of place. The characteristics of a tree that draw a person out of their house— a shaded yard, for example— also anchor their memories: spring’s heady blitz of lilac blossoms; deepest summer’s whispering cottonwoods; autumn’s fever dream reds and golds; even winter’s bare black branches. One smells applewood on the campfire and follows the thread back to a fireplace in Grandpa’s living room or the crunch of acorns on pavement might sweep them back to an apartment in midtown. The house of my childhood belongs to someone else now, and the Power Rangers lunchbox is buried in a landfill somewhere, but I still have a deep appreciation for pine resin.

     Trees are anchors in the past and bridges to the future. I don’t think I have to list the challenges we as a society, as a species, face today and in coming years. Looking forward, as we always must, planting a tree is one heroically optimistic action in uncertain times. A newly planted tree is a contract, a promise to us, our community, and those who come after us that whatever happens life in the future will be good and wanted and worth enjoying.

     Today ends Earth Week 2020 and the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. For me, the persistent legacy of this holiday is a reminder that we have some power in the face of radical uncertainty. Though the climb is a steep one and the winds are perilous so high and out in the open, I still think the top of a very tall tree is a good place to store sacred hopes and treasures.


Today we wrap up #NationalVolunteerWeek with a spotlight on the volunteers who help our Heartland Tree Alliance plant more than 5,500 trees throughout the Kansas City metro each year. These folks generously share their time to make an impact in our community for future generations to reap the benefits. #NVW2020 #volunteerBTG #HeartlandTreeAlliance #KCTrees


Bridging The Gap and local partner organizations share 50 ways you can celebrate 50 years of Earth Day while you #StayHomeKC!



Celebrate 50 years of Earth Day with a gift to Bridging The Gap and help protect KC’s natural environment for 50 more! Donate to BTG