Nov 13, 2023 - News

Plant a tree in New Orleans now to beat the summer heat

Photo shows two people sitting on a bench under live oak trees

New Orleans is known for its live oaks, like these in Audubon Park. Photo: Sophia Germer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It's tree planting season in New Orleans.

Why it matters: Summers are brutal in New Orleans with extreme heat and flooding rain. Trees can help reduce the impacts from both.

Driving the news: November and December are the best times to plant hardy trees and shrubs in southeast Louisiana, but the planting season extends into February, says the LSU AgCenter.

  • The plants are going dormant, and the mild weather will allow them to grow a strong root system before the intense summer months.

How to choose: Louisiana has dozens of native trees, and the best option varies by person and location.

Free trees: The NOLA Tree Project has a "Big TREEsy" giveaway monthly through March.

  • The trees are only available to Orleans Parish residents, and you have to show ID.

Yes, but: Not everyone has a yard. You can still plant a tree through SOUL NOLA in November and December. (Details)

The big picture: On average, New Orleans is about 9°F warmer than surrounding tree-covered communities, mostly due to the city's lack of permeable surface creating a "heat island" effect, per an analysis by climate research group Climate Central.

  • Hurricanes like Katrina and Ida were brutal to the tree canopy in New Orleans.

State of play: The city has a goal of planting 40,000 trees by 2030.

  • At least 17,914 trees have been planted since 2017, says Michael Karam, the director of Parks and Parkways. That's 45% of the goal.
  • The reforestation plan will tie in with the Big Green Easy, the masterplan in the works from the city to improve its parks.
  • Karam tells Axios that the trees planted in the past several years are "struggling to withstand and recover from what has been the hottest and driest summer in recent memory, if not ever."

Zoom in: New Orleans is more than 28 inches below normal rainfall for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service.

  • Metro New Orleans is now in an exceptional drought, the worst drought category possible from the U.S. Drought Monitor.
  • Last year was also dry, and the city and its contractor are watering, mulching and adding more soil amendments to help the baby trees survive.

Yes, but: 2021 was one of the wettest years on record in New Orleans.

What he's saying: "Climate instability is here," Karam tells Axios. "As a department, we are working to adapt and be better prepared for current and future challenges. 

  • "We have more city and federal funding, more nonprofit support and more public interest than ever before."

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