Earth Day may evoke thoughts of massive undertakings – helping endangered species, protecting the rainforests, reducing greenhouse gas emissions – but environmental change starts close to home. In fact, you can make a difference right in your own backyard, one tree at a time.

What a difference a tree makes!

Sure, a pretty palm tree helps create a lovely landscape, but its benefits go far beyond curb appeal. Trees are beneficial to the environment in numerous ways.They reverse the impacts of land degradation and provide food (for birds and wildlife, and fruit and nuts for humans), energy and income, helping communities to achieve long-term economic and environmental sustainability. Trees also filter the air and help stave off the effects of climate change. Planting trees helps to produce oxygen, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, filter out pollutants to clean the air, secure soil in place to prevent erosion and provide homes for a lot of biodiversity, creating a healthy lifestyle for all of the planet’s inhabitants. They also serve as a source of shelter to wildlife and can make an awesome fort for kids!

Best trees to plant in Florida

Most Florida landscapes are comprised of palm, shade and/or fruit trees – just make sure to pick trees that are best-suited to your climate zone (Florida has four of them). Fruit trees provide the (obvious) bonus of bearing a natural bounty, while shade trees, when planted in the right location, can help keep a home cool and reduce energy costs. This list provides you with the names of recommended shade trees for Florida – along with a list of trees Floridians should avoid planting.

We all pay an environmental price when just one tree falls. But if that tree falls in your yard, who foots the bill for damage and/or removal?

A tree belongs to the property owner on whose land the trunk is located. If it straddles two properties, it belongs to both owners. Any owner of the tree can trim branches on their property; this is also true even if the trunk is on your neighbor’s property, but the roots or branches extend onto your side (as long as you don’t harm the tree). Be aware that you have to stay on your own property to do this.

If a tree falls on your property, your property insurance company expects you to take immediate steps to repair your home. If there’s a dispute about whether the financial responsibility is yours or belongs to your neighbor, you can sue or ask your property insurance company to try to subrogate the claim to see if you might be able to recoup any expenses you may have incurred.

In general, many homeowners insurance policies cover damage to property and a certain amount per tree and/or event for debris removal (some companies only pay for debris removal if the home is damaged, so please read your policy language carefully). However, if you have prior knowledge that your tree has damage and take no action to resolve the issue, you may have coverage issues with your insurance company. It’s a great idea to have an arborist inspect your tree periodically. Here’s some helpful information about insects and diseases that may affect tree health, along with steps for diagnosis, courtesy of the Florida Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture.

How do you plan to celebrate Earth Day? Which trees are best for your area of Florida?