Learn about trees, get tips for home yards in Friends of Trees event in Salem

Friends of Trees is best known for its neighborhood tree-planting programs. Salem homeowners can sign up to become the caretaker of a free tree planted by volunteer crews.

But the nonprofit does much more. And on Monday, April 10, Salem residents can learn more about the group’s work and how to get involved.

The Marion County Master Gardener Association hosts the free talk at 7 p.m. at Salem’s Scottish Rite Temple at 4090 Commercial St. SE. Door prizes will be available.

Harrison Layer, a green space senior specialist with Friends of Trees, will be the night’s speaker. He’ll discuss his career, including his interest in combining social justice with ecology.

He’ll outline Salem volunteer opportunities with Friends of Trees. And he’ll offer tips about preparing home green spaces for the spring and summer.

Layer started working with Friends of Trees in 2016 as a crew leader volunteer. Before joining the organization, Layer worked with Portland Parks and Recreation and The Street Trust. He was looking for work that connected ecology and social justice, and Friends of Trees seemed like a good fit, he said.

Since 1989, Friends of Trees has planted about 910,000 trees and native shrubs in Portland, Vancouver, Salem, Eugene, and Springfield.

“We believe in the power of getting people, wherever they live, to connect with nature right outside their front door – whether that may be a natural area nearby or a developed park or a street tree in front of the place they live,” Layer said.

The street tree project remains at the heart of the nonprofit’s mission.

“Planting a tree in the front between the street and the sidewalk will lower temperatures in the city which tend to have higher temperatures documented due to asphalt and concrete. It’s a cooling measure,” Layer said.

During his talk, Layer will describe how the street tree planting projects work, and he’ll outline how volunteers can make an impact on their neighborhoods.

He’ll also discuss other important but less-known projects happening in Salem.

For example, Friends of Trees maintains a planting project in McKay Park in northeast Salem. Volunteers are needed for a May maintenance event.

Native trees and shrubs planted in the cooler months need mulch to thrive this summer. And weedy plants nearby should be removed before they crowd out the newcomers.

While no trees are planted at the May event, the work done can ensure a nicer park for people, birds, pollinators, and others during the warmer weather.

Layer will discuss the behind-the-scenes negotiations involved with these public planting projects. He’ll also offer tips people can use to lobby government officials for new projects in Salem.

Backyards could be an important refuge for wildlife this summer, and Layer has tips to share.

“Planting native plants is an invitation to birds flying overhead. They might be looking for that food source their own ancestors told them amount from generation to generation. When they see it on your property, they can come down, have a snack, rest, and maybe hide from a predator,” he said. “Your yard is a little oasis for wildlife and birds to recreate.”

Asking questions and thinking like an ecologist can help people get started, he said.

“Do I have a large, formed tree in my yard? Do I have a smaller form tree that often bears fruit in my yard somewhere? Do I have berry-fruiting native shrubs that flower for pollinators? Do I have groundcover for pollinators? A diverse variety is the way to go, and it’s the most climate-hearty for the challenges we’re facing today,” he said.

Register for the free talk online. Time will be provided for questions.

Volunteers put in plants at McKay Park next to McKay High School in November 2022 to improve a wetland in a project by Friends of Trees. A free public session on such opportunities is scheduled for Monday, April 10. (Friends of Trees)

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Jean Dion is a freelance writer and marketing professional. She's lived in Salem for about 10 years. When not writing, she dabbles in gardening, photography, and caring for her dogs, cats, and rabbits.