Are Sarasotans Shade-Phobics?
by Dan Walton
Driving around the Sarasota area, one is struck by how many houses have few or no trees shading them. Many have a lone palm and a few shrubs surrounding a parched weedy lawn area. The paucity of shade seems surprising in a climate that has at least 6 months in which the high temperatures hover around 90 during much of the day, and the sun is unrelenting except for the occasional afternoon shower. The lack of shade is particularly surprising when it can be demonstrated that proper shading by trees can reduce air-conditioning costs by up to $30 per month and also make the outside of the house, particularly the driveways, so much more pleasant. Furthermore, trees have also been shown to enhance property values by thousands of dollars. Trees not only save money, but they reduce energy requirements and take up carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter from the air which makes them environmentally valuable.
Given these attributes, how to explain the apparent reluctance to plant trees? One possibility is that many people leave during the summer and therefore are less concerned about the summer sun and heat. A second possibility is that many people having come from the north, believe that obtaining shade by planting trees takes longer than they are willing to wait. In this climate, however, a reasonable sized tree can produce decent shade in 4 or 5 years if looked after properly. It is amazing that some of the least shaded areas of the city have been in existence for 30 or 40 years. This is long enough to produce a veritable forest canopy.
Some homeowners are undoubtedly concerned about having trees drop on their houses as a result of a hurricane or tropical storm. It is true that some trees are prone to uprooting as a result of high winds and soaking rains. It is possible to greatly reduce or eliminate this danger, however, by planting trees and palms native to this area, such as live oak, slash pine and cabbage palms to mention a few. It was live oaks and cabbage palms that survived the massive hurricane Andrew in south Florida a few years ago. In order to reduce the possibility of damage even further, plant far enough from your house to give the tree roots a chance to spread sufficiently.
As a nursery owner I know that some people here look on trees as a nuisance whose primary effect is to produce leaves that must be raked. This is a task, like paying taxes, that they wanted to leave behind in Ohio, or Michigan, or New York or wherever. My stock reply to that complaint is to ask why they have to rake up the leaves. Their answer is that the leaves will kill the grass, to which I respond “wonderful.” Lawns are not desirable in our climate. Tree leaves make marvelous mulch to keep down weeds and conserve moisture for landscape plants.
Planting trees is an activity that will pay you back economically, increase your comfort, and make your property more aesthetically pleasing. How can anyone resist such an enhancement that can be done so easily and inexpensively?