Updated 01 March 2013

Tree tips

Which tree-planting projects and tree species really help the environment?

Just about any indigenous tree is a good bet, but to give it the best chance to flourish check with your local nursery garden to make sure a tree will suit your specific growing area.

Get ideas for which trees to choose by looking at the South African Trees of the Year list.

If you’re keen to help with established tree-planting projects, the following are highly reputable and worthy organisations:

Food and Trees for Africa plants trees and establishes food gardens in for needy communities in barren environments. You can help by buying or sponsoring a tree, or getting involved in their volunteer programme. The website has a handy free carbon calculator too.

Greenworks runs a "Tree for Life" initiative - you can buy a tree through them and they will plant it for you.

Spekboom Carbon and Poverty Alleviation Project promotes the planting of hardy Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) trees to create jobs, green impoverished urban areas and fight climate change.

Lorien Collett of the Spekboom Project explains why this species is an environmental winner:

“Spekboom is a pioneer plant and a succulent, withstanding dry and/or windy conditions that other trees would not survive in. It grows very successfully from slips or broken off branches (an evolved ability from having animals drop branches while feeding). It grows much quicker than other trees and therefore its rate of carbon sequestration rivals that of rainforest. Because it is hardy and grows quickly in adverse conditions, it has a higher rate of success in reaching maturity than other trees.

“Roots bind the soil to reduce erosion and loss of topsoil, and carbon is returned to the topsoil, making it more fertile. A cool environment is created for other vegetation to propogate and thrive, thereby supporting biodiversity. Spekboom also is highly nutritious and can support the higher biomass of larger animals like rhino and elephant as well as smaller buck, cattle, sheep and goats. Because it is a succulent, animals and often humans will chew the leaves for hydration where water is scarce. It has flowers that are loved by bees and could support beekeeping as a related industry.

“The planting of spekboom is labour intensive and a way of creating jobs through corporate and government sponsorship. Many urban or sub-urban township environments are badly degraded environmentally with poor soil conditions and lack of watering facilities. Spekboom is ideal for the rehabilitation of these areas because of its unique capabilities.”

Her tips for planting Spekboom:
  • A pot is a good way to get started; the Spekboom Project recommends "Compots" - pots made of compost - which biodegrade, enriching the soil. Compots help absorbs water, allowing for a longer pot shelf life and less watering for the plant.
  • Potted Spekboom needs nutrients added to the soil from time to time and can be trained into a bonsai look. Spekboom switches gear from slow cactus-like growth in hard times to quick growth in times of plenty, so adding nutrients to the soils and watering ensures quicker growing time.
  • Outdoor Spekboom can be pruned into an evergreen hedge. Don't cut the lower branches or clear leaves from the ground beneath: this hinders successful growth.


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