The Woman Who Planted Six Trees

Amanda Page
Laura Sanders in her Clintonville back yard

After growing anxious while watching the forests burning in California, the Amazon and Australia, Laura Sanders had a reaction that was both emotional and pragmatic. She started planting trees.

Sanders was inspired by David Milarch, the man who is planting clones of the world’s ancient trees and is the subject of the book “The Man Who Planted Trees” by Jim Robbins. Milarch’s nursery is in Platte Lake, Michigan, near Sanders’ parents’ home, and she heard him speak at their church. His words motivated her to make her response personal—to take her global fears and act locally. She began to collect acorns in her Clintonville neighborhood, plant them in pots in her garage and encourage her neighbors to plant trees, too.

She started an Instagram account (@plantsixtrees) to keep track of and document the trees she was planting. The social media handle is a simple instruction and a small request. “I read that it takes six trees to absorb the amount of carbon released from one human lifetime of breathing,” Sanders says. “But I no longer remember the reference.”

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Though she’s forgotten the source—and the number of trees required to cancel out a person’s total carbon footprint is well beyond six, fueled by the likes of daily commutes and airline travel—she liked the thought of offsetting human consequences on the natural world. Plant Six Trees became the name of her project, a personal mantra and a message of activism to others.

When Cindy Gunn, a sixth grade teacher at Indianola Informal, saw the Instagram account, she asked Sanders to speak to her class. In 2011, when the school moved into its current building, there were two pin oaks on the grounds, each 100 years old. One had to be removed. The first thing Sanders did with the class was plant a new pin oak with acorns from the one left standing. The planting exercise prompted students to learn how trees “talk” to one another through root structures. “Trees are working together to make sure the species survives,” Gunn says.

Sanders is encouraging humans to do the same. With the help of trees, six per person, people can have a positive effect on the world at large. “I would like Plant Six Trees to inspire others to consider planting a tree,” she says. “I would like to die knowing I planted a little forest in our city.

“Maybe,” she continues, “I’ll be the eccentric woman who has a tree every 2 feet.”

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Want to plant six trees? Sanders offers these quick tips:

  • This fall, be a squirrel. “Collect acorns,” she says.
  • Make sure there are no tiny weevil holes in your acorns. Remove the caps.
  • Put your acorns in a bowl of water and watch the good ones sink. Pitch the floaters.
  • White oak acorns germinate right away in the fall. Grow them near a bright window over the winter.
  • Put red oak acorns in a container filled with moist soil and store them in the refrigerator. By February, they’ll begin to sprout.
  • Plant the sprouts in spring.
  • Protect seedlings from squirrels and deer by using tree guards or light wire fencing.
  • Water once a week.

Plant Your Own Oak