Far Reaching Forests


Growing up in the forests of upstate New York, I was in awe of the graceful lines of the birch trees in winter, the heavy limbs of sprawling gnarled oaks reaching up toward the sky and the overladen apple trees in the orchard near my home. I spent many days drawing, writing and dreaming in my tree fort, reaping the benefit of a close relationship with these green giants.

When I first arrived on the Sunrise Springs property I was staggered by the ancient Cottonwood trees touching the big blue New Mexico skies. It was like coming home to the gentle giants of my youth. Their presence here is a beautiful reminder of the grandeur of nature in our desert oasis that rarely goes unnoticed by visitors.

Trees and Health

While anecdotes from my youth may be personally potent, scientific research backs my innate yearning for trees. Close proximity to trees has now been demonstrated to be good for your health and well-being.

A 2015 study led by University of Chicago psychologist Omid Kardan, studied city dwellers in Toronto, Canada and both their perceived and actual physical health in relation to the proximity to trees. This study built upon previous studies which have demonstrated the benefits of nature scenery to psychological and cognitive well-being.

Participants in the 2015 study who lived in neighborhoods with a high density of trees self-reported a higher health perception and fewer heart conditions. This study specifically demonstrated that having 10 or more trees on a city block improved perceived health to such a degree that it was comparable to an individual receiving a $10,000 increase in annual personal income and moving to a neighborhood with $10,000 higher median income or being 7 years younger. The greatest perceived benefits came from public trees as opposed to private trees in an individual’s yard.

For additional benefits of trees read our blog “What is Nature Bathing?”

Planting Your Own

Why not incorporate more trees into your own life? Whether planting for public or private enjoyment, Spring is a perfect time to plant a little piece of leafy heaven. While container grown trees can be planted throughout the year, Spring is the time for bare root specimens to be placed in the ground.

Take the time to carefully choose trees that grow best in your climate. Consider factors such as growing zone, soil type, pH, and water needs. There are countless nurseries throughout the country and in your region, that cater to your local environment.

It is important to properly prepare the soil into which you plan to plant your tree. Test your soil before you transplant to ensure that the soil can support the type of tree you are planting. Soil amending should be done in moderation, adding no more than 20 percent amendments into the soil.

Research has demonstrated that tree roots grow better in soil that has been loosened prior to planting. To do this, assess the size of root ball of your tree. A hole should be dug so that the soil should is loosened 12” out on all sides of the root ball. Trees should be planted slightly above to right at the same level as they were planted in the nursery. Back fill with soil, and then water thoroughly and deeply. Care will need to be taken in the early weeks after a tree is planted to ensure its successful growth.

For personalized advice on trees for your region contact your local cooperative extension office.

Danielle Simmons, Horticulture and Animal Interactions
Inspired by her childhood experience of play in the forests of upstate New York, Danielle has devoted her career to connecting human wellness with a deeper engagement to the natural world. Danielle planted and manages the greenhouse and the garden beds at Sunrise. She enjoys teaching guests the many uses of herbs, from first aid to making herbal teas and salves. When she is not being inspired by the big trees and abundant water at Sunrise, she is enjoying time with her family and their organic garden, which they tend on their homestead south of Santa Fe.