May 2024 Blog

May Tree Talk: Trees and Mental Health

We talk about the power of trees and greenspaces a lot at Capital Trees. They work hard for the environment — sequestering carbon, mitigating stormwater runoff, cleaning the air, providing food and habitat resources, and of course, in the true fashion of a “giving tree”, they offer shade. We also talk a lot about how important trees and greenspaces are for supporting physical health. Safe, shady, accessible areas to exercise help promote cardiovascular health and weight loss, and greenspaces can improve air quality for those who suffer from asthma. But trees promote more than just physical health. May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and today we want to highlight the positive impact that trees can have on our mental wellbeing, which is proving to be more important for society than ever. 

Trees benefit our mental health in a variety of ways, which makes them incredibly beneficial in our community spaces.

Trees for stress relief.

There is evidence that time spent in nature can lower cortisol levels, heart rate, and anxiety. Cortisol is an essential hormone which regulates your body’s stress response, maintains blood pressure, and regulates immune function. Time spent with trees can even buffer the impacts of loneliness and social isolation, which are becoming more and more pervasive in modern society. 

Trees invite birds in.

Some studies suggest that bird songs can lower stress levels, and bird songs that are already familiar to us (our local bird calls) tend to be the most beneficial. We know, we know. Birds aren’t trees. But, many of Virginia’s songbirds depend on new and old trees for habitat. Trees on their own are wonderful for mental health, but when combined with calming bird calls? They’re downright healing. Connecting with nature has been shown to increase happiness, one’s sense of well being, positive social interactions, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life. 

Trees for meditation.

So what about forest bathing?  Maybe you’ve heard the term before. Forest bathing is an ancient Shinto and Buddhist practice which lets nature into your body through your senses. Forest bathing is when you immerse all your senses into nature so you fully experience your surroundings. This practice is thought to work in our bodies due to a chemical that plants produce called phytoncide. Phytoncides stimulate Lymphocite white blood cells which are an important part of our immune system. After time spent forest bathing, people are shown to experience lower cortisol, a slower heart rate, and decreased anxiety. Perhaps the greatest thing about forest bathing is that you don’t have to go out to heavily wooded areas or the wilderness to gain these benefits, it can be done in a local park or greenspace. The important part  is slowing down and really connecting with the nature in your area, ideally for at least 20 minutes. 

We need to take care of our brain the same way we would take care of a broken leg, or open wound. Healing, happiness, and stress management are crucial components to overall wellbeing. There is a growing value being placed on prescribing time in nature through a nonprofit called ParkRX. Although these prescriptions are largely focused on physical health for the time being, I don’t think we are far off from considering the value of park prescriptions for mental health. Though we are at the end of the official national month for mental health awareness, mental health is important to focus on, all year long. Even as we move out of May we challenge you to try and spend at least two hours a week in a park or under a tree. Take the time to stare at the leaves and watch insects moving up and down the trunk, breathe in, breathe out. Visit the Low Line, sit on a bench, and watch the gardens, and feel for yourself the impact it can have on your outlook.  


May — Urban Green Space Maintenance

May has been a busy month for us in the gardens and across our other project sites. With the weather transitioning towards consistently warm days we have been focused on trying to stay on top of the annual weeds. Though we have done a great job so far of reducing the seedbank in many of the plots (thanks to our volunteers!), there are definitely still a few sections of the garden that need attention. We have also planted a couple of shrubs and transplanted some of the rudbeckia along the Low Line, as we try to take advantage of the last minute planting window before we fade into the strong heat of summer. Additionally, tree diapers were added around the trees that were planted at Canoe Run Park last fall, and late spring maintenance was conducted there to help promote the health of the new trees.

May — Featured Trees Seasonal Update

This year we’ll be documenting the same two trees as they progress out of dormancy, bud out in the spring, are full of foliage in the summer, and lose their leaves in the fall. Follow along for monthly updates on the River Birch and Eastern White Redbud along the Low Line Gardens in Richmond, Virginia.

May — Spotted at Low Line Gardens

It is that time of year again! The Canadian Geese have returned to the Low Line and Kanawha Canal with plenty of goslings in tow. Though we love that they come and visit every year we’d like to please remind everyone not to feed them as it is important they continue to migrate in the winter!


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