Ever Hear Of Domesticating Plants?

When talking to people about trees and plants, some will make the comment that trees live quite well on their own in the forest, so why spend money on caring for the trees in our yards. My answer is always a comparison with the family dog. The trees in our yards are about as far away from forest trees genetically as our dogs are from wolves.

Very few landscape trees that were planted are pure species. Nearly all of them are hybrids or cultivars. They’re usually bred for certain aesthetic traits, and there’s always a trade-off. Some may compromise certain health characteristics while others may actually improve their resistance to certain pests. I think of some of the new, disease-resistant American elm cultivars available today.

Recently, when I explained why landscape plants need care, the person responded with, “You mean we’ve domesticated trees?” “Yeah, I guess you could call it that,” I responded, “but we refer to it as cultivating them.”

Besides the genetic modifications that have occurred with both our trees and our dogs, there are also environmental differences between the wild and your yard. Our dogs know to come to their bowl for dinner, rather than having to hunt in the wild. They know to go out when they have to, and they are loyal and friendly to their masters.

Tree are often planted in inhospitable environments that are totally wrong for them. Instead of letting dropped leaves decompose at the base of our landscape trees so the organic material in them will be recycled back into the soil, we rake the leaves and dispose of them. We don’t leave any dead understory plants at the base of trees to decompose either. In other words, our landscape environment is very sterile compared to that of a forest. Our landscape soils are not teaming with the microbes and legions of living organisms that live in the soil and assist plants for their mutual benefit.

Because we’ve snatched trees from the forest, rebred them into new varieties of trees and planted them into sterile, often inhospitable environments, we have to supply their needs that are missing from the environments we created.

Domesticated or cultivated. They both mean the same, and that’s why we need to care for our trees.

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