Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sustainable Gardening: Dead Trees Are Just As Important As Live Trees

During the bare, bleak winter season I am again reminded of the importance of dead trees in the landscape. It is during this time when all the leaves are off the trees that the sky becomes prominent and clear from the summer haze that any still standing dead trees are more clearly seen. I imagine most people consider dead trees, especially tall ones, to be an eyesore at best, and at worse, to be a severe hazard for fear of falling over. Because of this neatnick and fearful outlook most trees that die become wood chips before the blink of an eye.

I think this is a real shame and I am recommending that people leave dead trees standing where it is safe to do so. Dead trees are a natural part of our planet’s ecosystem and many plants and animals have developed over millions of years to rely on this habitat as a place to live, for food, and for shelter. The most recognizable benefit is to woodpeckers who need dead and mature live trees for their survival. Dead trees house beetles and insects that the woodpeckers need for food, and they use their strong beaks to carve out a hollow space in the trunks that makes a great home for them. I know I have enjoyed watching woodpeckers many times as they peck at the trees and fly about. I don’t want to imagine a world without them, for they are a beautiful sight!

In our garden we have three rather tall dead pine trees that attract many birds, including woodpeckers. We decided to leave these trees since they are not endangering anybody and they are very valuable to the ecosystem. I also think dead trees present a striking architectural and sculptural element not found in any living elements. Dead trees are, like boulders and mountains, nature’s sculptures that make landscapes beautiful. Unlike anything else, dead trees provide a direct connection between the sky and the earth that helps us understand both realms.

So, the next time you suddenly have a tree die in your garden, please consider letting it stand. If you are the least bit observant, you will be amazed at how much new life it will bring to your garden!

About Roland Oehme: He is a landscape architect specializing in beautiful, bold, edible, sustainable, and wildlife friendly garden design. To view his portfolio, please visit