Rooting for LEAF in Toronto



Toronto’s trees are dying. That shouldn’t be a scary notion. All living things die. However, Toronto’s problem is that a lot of trees will be dying over the next 15 years.

North Toronto, for instance, has an overload of geriatric trees. Grand as they are, they’ll be coming down in increasing numbers.

In other areas of the amalgamated city, people have Norway maples in their yards. Norways have a life span of only about 50 years, and for many of them, time is fast running out.

Then there are sections of the city where most of the trees were planted at the same time. Often they’re the same kind of tree, and too often they were planted with little regard to soil conditions, and are ill-suited to survive the increasing stress in a city where dry summers and air pollution are both on the upswing. When they start dying, whole neighbourhoods could go bare.

So, if you want to make sure you have a large tree on your property in 15 years, you’d better be planting a sapling now.

That’s the message from LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests), a non-profit organization dedicated to « protecting and improving Toronto’s urban forest’’ by encouraging people to plant trees in their back yards.

For $35 to $55, LEAF will send a representative to your property to discuss planting and maintenance; it will recommend a species from a list of eight; it will plant a sapling, 120 to 180 centimetres tall; and a representative will visit your property a year later to see how the tree is doing. In addition, if you’re worried about the health of your sapling, you can call LEAF for advice.

Janet McKay, Leaf’s project manager, calls the program an investment in the future.« Those back yards are really valuable spaces. They offer room for trees to reach their maximum,’’ she says.

Front-yard planting is not offered. The problems for trees are too great. Salt from winter clearing of streets creates additional stress for trees, she says. And then there are the difficulties posed by overhead wires and underground services. Besides, much of front yards is owned by the city and, at your request, it will place trees there.

McKay, 32, leans forward with a delicate gusto as she extols the benefit of tree planting. One tree, she says, will produce enough oxygen daily for four people. And three can cut air summer air conditioning by up to 40 per cent. An evergreen on the north side of the house can reduce heating requirements by up to 10 per cent.

In addition, she says, leaves intercept rainfall, slowing its descent — allowing the ground to absorb more water and reducing runoff. Trees will absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, and nitrogen oxides, which are big contributors to acid levels in soils and waterways. They’ll provide habitat for birds and insects, and, she adds, perhaps as important as everything else, their beauty can provide peace, sanity, and an escape from the hectic pace of the city.

The tree-planting initiative was started in the early nineteen nineties under the provincial Green Communities program. One of the first things the government of Mike Harris did when it came to power in 1995 was to chop it. In Toronto, however, the program was kept alive under FoodShare, a city-funded, non-profit organization, and was financed by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund. In the fall of 1997, it was transferred to the independent Phoenix Community Works Foundation, and renamed LEAF. In the past four years, 2,500 backyard trees have been planted under the program.

Some of those trees are now four metres high. « When I see them,’’ says McKay, « I feel that I’m part of something good. We get so used to feeling that we’re part of the problem that it’s really nice to feel you’re part of a solution, even if it’s a small part.’’

If you want a sapling, call LEAF at (416) 413-9244, or look at its website at You, too, might end up feeling part of something good.


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