The True Value of a Tree

By Mike Schleining, CCNP, Sales Manager, Arbor Valley Nursery

A common question from customers, both retail and landscape contractors, is “Why are trees so expensive?” On the surface, it is a difficult question to answer, because most of us in the industry think trees are too cheap! From acorn to sellable size, an oak tree can take eight years to grow. When calculating the associated labor, water, and other resources necessary to get this tree from the grower to the local nursery and into the landscape, the cost of a tree can add up.

A different approach to explaining the true value of trees in a landscape beyond aesthetic reasons (or because the homeowners association requires it) is to look at their benefits. In 2017, Colorado State University released The Hidden Value of Landscapes: Implications for Drought Planning. Although this report was geared toward addressing drought-related issues, it also highlights the many benefits of trees—that contribute to their true value.

Trees are carbon-sequestering machines and one of the best oxygen producers we know. According to Robert J. Moulton and Kenneth R. Richards in Costs of Sequestering Carbon through Tree Planting and Forest Management in the United States, one tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide and provides enough oxygen to support two human beings in one year.

Trees also cool the air and man-made structures around us. According to Haider Taha, David Sailor and Hashem Akbari in High-albedo Materials for Reducing Building Cooling Energy Use, structures in urban areas with paved surfaces and few plants can have surface temperatures 18 degrees to 38 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the ambient air temperatures. Trees cool the air when moisture evaporates from the soil and plants. Additionally, cars parked under trees are an average of 45 degrees cooler than cars not protected, according to Peak Power and Cooling Energy Savings of Shade Trees by Hashem Akbari, Dan M. Kurn, Sarah E. Bretz and James W. Hanford.

Another benefit of trees is reduced building energy costs for heating and cooling, plus an added bonus in increased real estate value. Three trees properly placed around a house can save $100 to $250 annually in energy costs, according to a 2003 energy saving guide published by the United States Department of Energy. Large street trees can add 3 percent to 15 percent to home values and will appreciate over time, according to a 2007 article by K.L. Wolf in Arborist News.

Based on the many benefits that trees provide for our lives, homes and communities, current market prices for trees are actually a great deal. As long as we, as an industry, can explain and sell the many benefits when talking with customers, we can work to change the assumption that trees are too expensive.

To learn more in The Hidden Value of Landscapes, visit: