There are more than 680,000 mapped trees in New York City - with many of them living in the sidewalk bed that exists on so many streets throughout the five boroughs. The varieties are endless. You have your London Planetree and Thornless honey-locusts in Brooklyn; Red Maples in Manhattan; Goldenrain trees in the Bronx; Pin Oak trees in Queens and Callery Pears in in Staten Island - approximately 240 different species in the city overall.
With Spring around the corner and many of us still hopeful for making resolutions of change and renewal in the New Year - we here at BK ROT Compost wanted to tell you about the six karmic benefits for adopting one of New York City's Leafiest as one of your own this year.
If you don't know what karma is, it's the simple idea that you get what you give to others. Studies have shown that it offers benefits for pro-social behavior, work motivation, personal well-being and success.
But it doesn't just have to be limited to our interactions with other human beings, here are six major reasons why giving good karma to a street tree near you is one of the best things you can do in 2018.
#1: You're actually healing the circle of life
The earth operates as a "closed system" - meaning that it makes everything it needs to make sure that its inhabitants can live and survive on this planet. Trees are a huge part of that system because they absorb pollutants through their leaf surfaces and harmful carbon emissions in the atmosphere. In fact, a tree can absorb between 26 and 48 pound of carbon per year.
Street trees are unable to fully contribute to this process however because they grow in limited spaces cut into cement sidewalks. Like any cramped New York City apartment, these tree pits don't offer the room needed for a street tree's roots to draw nutrients from the soil and sequester as much carbon dioxide as they could.
When you decide to care for a street tree by watering it, removing weeds, and adding recycled mulch or compost - you're giving street trees access to the microorganisms, fungi, air and water necessary for them to take part in that beautiful circle of life.
#2: You're protecting trees from harmful weather elements
It seems counter-intuitive to think that something from nature needs protection from nature but as anyone who's lived in New York City can tell you - this isn't the most natural place. Unlike their country cousins - street trees grow in dense, compact soil - leaving them exposed to harsh sun in the summer and over-salted sidewalks in the winter.
Salt is especially harmful because it harms the microbial life of the soil that plants and trees depend on to grow. When it's sprayed from salt trucks or passing cars after a winter storm, it can cause salt burn on buds, leaves, and small twigs. On the ground, it can absorb the water that was meant for street trees - limiting their growth even more.
#3: You're also protecting trees from the most harmful element of all - humans
Of course nothing compares to the trouble that humans cause street trees - first by standing on their soil and making it even more compact and second by using sidewalk beds as trash receptacles.
The Department of Sanitation collected close to four million tons of residential waste last year, with a good deal of that garbage ending up in the street. And that doesn't even account for the damage that comes from public urination and pet droppings. When humans and animals use sidewalk beds as their personal bathrooms - it disrupts the delicate chemical balance of the soil. This waste can also literally burn tree trunks and absolutely blight a city's plant life.
Installing a tree guard around the perimeter of a tree bed can help protect a tree from wayward dogs - and humans. Adding just three inches of mulch t to the top of a tree bed can do even more - by serving as a buffer for a young from human feet and the paws of pets.
#4: Using compost for street trees helps reduce your waste footprint.
Do you know your environmental footprint? Chances are you have a decent one - especially if you order packages from Amazon, eat out for lunch, or get your groceries delivered to your apartment door.
When you decide to take care of a tree using sifted or unsifted compost, you're also helping to close an environmental waste loop in your own community.
Unsifted compost can be used as both an amendment and mulch combined since the larger parts still present add bulk to the soil itself.
The bulk compost keeps larger organisms in place and the mycelium growing in tact. In BK ROT's compost, you’ll see wood chips, fruit pits, nut shells and leathery skins such as those from avocados.
This bulk serves to release more nutrients as it continues to break down over time. Large material pieces create more structure in the soil supporting pathways for air and providing space for water and microorganisms to travel. It can be raked and integrated into the existing tree bed soil after being loosened with a hand cultivator if the bed is compacted.
Sifted compost on the other hand can be used as an amendment. It can be worked into the top few inches of compacted soil and then mulch can be added on top. You can do this by loosening the top few inches of the existing soil with a hand cultivator, then adding the sifted compost to work it in.
While integrating the compost microorganisms into the soil, you’re creating pathways for water to travel into the earth where a tree's roots can access it. The water also serves as a highway for microorganisms to move deeper into the soil. Microorganisms facilitate the transfer of nutrients to the tree roots. Soil and tree roots work together over time providing the tree what it needs when it needs it.
As it turns out, that 3-dollar coffee and avocado toast you made this morning isn't just another selfish millennial entitlement - it can actually be good for the trees and environment around you.
#5: You're being a good New Yorker
BK ROT compost is not only made from locally collected food scraps, eggshells, spent coffee grounds, clean hardwood shavings and wood chips - it's also collected and handmade by young people of color who gain the opportunity to learn valuable green job skills.
Many of the black, brown, undocumented, and LGBTQ youth denied from middle-class earning opportunities by an unequal and segregated New York City school system are also hurt by a legacy of environmental racism - where waste transfer stations an asthma hospitalization rates are heavily borne by residents in the South Bronx, north and central Brooklyn, Jamaica and the Rockaways.
When you commit to taking care of a tree in New York City and - better yet - using BK ROT compost to do it. You're giving sustainability opportunities to young people and reducing the waste footprint of local businesses. You're also helping trees reduce the energy usage of nearby apartments as well. Fuhgeddaboutit.
#6: You're warding off the ennui of human disconnection and loneliness.
In a city where we're likely to move from neighborhood to neighborhood and live with random roommates to lower the rent burden, it can be hard to feel as though you're actually connected to something tangible and real. City dwellers today report fewer friends than they did just two decades ago.
Deciding to take care of a street tree by pruning flowers and shrubs, installing signage, or even planting a tree in an empty sidewalk bed is a great way to literally root yourself in the place where you live.
You can request for the city to plant a tree for free on your block or do it yourself - giving yourself something that you know will live long after you do. You can even become a tree steward that organizes nature-based projects for your neighbors. On a psychic note, tree hugging isn't just a stupid insult hurled by drill instructors in crew cuts, it actually has healing benefits ranging from alleviating headaches to serving as an non-judgmental therapist we can whisper our greatest hopes and deepest anxieties into.
So have no fear - those street trees don't bite!
If you'd like to find a street tree in your neighborhood you can take care of today, check out this handy New York City street tree map. If you want to get your hands dirty learning how to compost to take care of the tree of your choice - come to BK ROT Compost's site at 1278 Myrtle Avenue every Sunday from 12 to 2 PM.