Jan. 1 2002 12:00 AM

Ask a timberland manager about the value of a tree, and hes likely to quote a figure anywhere between a hundred dollars and several thousand. Ask the same question of a nurseryman, and youll hear an entirely different set of numbers, the larger figures reserved for the exotic and frilly.

Ask a farmer about the worth of trees, and hell probably explain it as a factor of soil loss to water and wind, or possibly in terms of their capacity to produce fruit. Inquire of the more liberal arts minded, and youll learn that trees are a deep well of inspiration for poets, painters and songwriters. (Think Joyce Kilmer. Think The Joshua Tree.) An Atlanta physician named Warren Jacobs sees such a strong link between trees and human well-beings, in fact, that hes compiling a book a collection of tree stories and poems he has acquired over the past few years.

People from all walks of life recognize a trees value on some level. And for a landscape contractor to paraphrase a popular lyric from thes the value you take equals the value you make In other words, a wise landscape professional will take the clients goals and the propertys potential, and together with his or her own knowledge, will maximize a clients tree values. A Gallup poll revealed that American households spent $17.4 billion on professional lawn care, tree care and landscape services in 1999. In this light, then, the profession has been entrusted with quite a responsibility.

The value a tree provides in a landscape setting can be viewed in a health and well-being sense or as an economic or environmental benefit.

Healthy homes
Trees can contribute to the mental and physical well-being of home and business owners in a host of different ways. First of all and quite possibly the most significant from a landscape professionals point of view  is the aesthetic value inherent in ornamental cherries, pin oaks, willows and a range of other species. People draw comfort from swaying branches and colorful leaves falling to the sidewalk. The very nature of trees  so stately and regal lends to the awe we have for them. In ones daily activities, a quick inventory of the artwork encountered in restaurants, museums and waiting rooms reveals an affection for the tree as a thing of beauty. And beauty is easy on the eyes and soothing to the soul, qualities that reduce stress levels and anxiety.

Beyond just looking pretty, trees can contribute to human health and sanity in other ways. They serve as effective privacy screens or noise buffers for office buildings or residences. According to a report from the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA), for instance, a cypress buffer two feet in thickness between a yard and a busy street can reduce by five decibels the street noise affecting the home.

Furthermore, trees act as a storehouse for carbon and they generate oxygen from the process of photosynthesis, and these activities obviously relate to human health.

Green for green
In an economics-driven society, its ironic that so few people consider the economic benefits of their landscapes. These benefits do indeed exist, however, and trees can play an important role in adding to the landscape owners bank accounts, or perhaps protecting whats already there. For instance, the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) estimates that the property values of landscaped homes are, on average, between five and 20 percent higher than those homes without landscaping, a fact to which realtors can attest. A modest investment in trees and landscaping, therefore, can see a very impressive return.

When planted in locations to block sunlight and wind, trees can lower utility costs notably. By ALCAs estimates, properly positioned plant materials can lower the costs of heating and cooling by as much as 20 percent, a concept thats even more pertinent in these days when energy crises are the buzz in political arenas. Also, according to ALCA, a single, large tree can lower household temperatures by up to ten degrees and can absorb as much heat as several window air-conditioning units.

Studies have indicated that an attractive, well-landscaped business establishment be it an apartment building or a shopping center will draw more customers than a business that lacks exterior trees and plants, and well-landscaped rental units tend to have higher occupancy rates. Malls and superstores have begun to realize how much more appealing and inviting to patrons a parking lot is, with islands of locusts or sycamores as opposed to one that seems an ocean of black pavement, especially in the heat of summer.

When it comes to creating a sense of community within a corporation, many companies have found that trees help make their establishments a more attractive place to work and, therefore, draw higher caliber employees. Whats more, according to ALCA, business entities such as the Codex Corporation, John Deere, Weyerhaeuser and IBM have seen the benefits of trees and other landscape installations through gains in employee morale and productivity, as well as through the deductible expenses of landscape management.

Environmental factors to consider
A respect for trees is usually synonymous with concern for the environment, and trees in the landscape can add environmental value to a property. On the wildlife side of the equation, trees can provide a habitat and food for songbirds, small mammals or beneficial insects. A line of trees and shrubs can furthermore serve as a greenway for wildlife species, connecting two woodlots or other natural areas.

In those parts of the country where wind, water or gravity can lead to erosion, trees help anchor the soil in place, shield the soils surface from the wind or filter rainfall. While extension services and forestry departments have been touting these benefits to farmers and other rural homeowners for years, the same principles, of course, apply in an urban setting.

Just as trees act as dumps for carbon, they can also filter other impurities from the atmosphere, thereby contributing to a higher air quality.

Protecting the investment
Tree value is an important concept for the landscape contractor to convey to customers and prospects, and its an idea that can be communicated via Web sites, brochures or other marketing tools either those created by the contractor or the ones available from professional associations. It is, however, a concept thats probably best related through one-on-one contacts, as every situation, as well as every client, is different.

Once clients understand a few of the benefits that can be derived from landscape trees and take the step of tree purchase, the contractor then, in a manner, assumes the role of banker,D protecting and maximizing that initial investment. Choosing and positioning deciduous trees to get the greatest benefit from their shade, selecting the most visually appealing trees for the respective circumstance, and recommending trees that will provide the largest number of resources to local wildlife are just a few examples of how the landscape contractor can play a role in the planning phase.

Afterwards, it pays the contractor to possess an appropriate amount of tree maintenance knowledge or else have a list of tree care subcontractors at hand so that any pruning, fertilization, mulching or transplanting is performed to the betterment of both the tree and the property as a whole.

ISA offers the following tips for maximizing and protecting the value of landscape trees:

* Plan landscaping for not only aesthetics, but other functions as well: energy conservation, wildlife habitat, etc.

* Photograph trees and other landscape plants while theyre in their prime. Doing so will provide documentation for any losses that occur due to weather, disease, vandalism and so forth.

* Become familiar with how trees are addressed in insurance policies. Usually, the maximum allowable claim for any one tree is $500.

* For tax, insurance and legal purposes, keep detailed records of landscape/real estate appraisals.

Societys attraction to trees may seem one-dimensional on the surface, but it takes in a wide range of disciplines: economics, aesthetics, environment, to name a few. Many will remember a book read to them in grade school entitled The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, in which a boy, over the course of his lifetime, gains a place to climb, food to eat, lumber for his home and a place to rest from the same tree. While simplified for young readers, this book shares a philosophy that many landscape clients may come to adopt: a tree has value from more than one angle.

January 2002