University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

What Vermont holiday falls on the first Friday in May and celebrates the future instead of the past? If you answered Arbor Day, you're right!

Arbor Day is a public celebration of spring and of trees. Church groups, schools, civic groups, towns, cities, and private individuals commemorate this day by planting trees to beautify their yards and their communities. The date varies by state depending on the climate and the best time for planting trees. This year Arbor Day is May 7 in Vermont.

Arbor Day had its origins in the Great Plains in the 1800s. Settlers arriving from the East found vast open stretches of land, but no trees, and so began planting trees on their farms and near their homes for shade, beauty, and to act as windbreaks and curb soil erosion.

Julius Sterling Morton, a New York native who later moved to Michigan then settled in Nebraska, is credited as the father of Arbor Day. An early conservationist, he understood the importance of planting trees to prevent the loss of valuable topsoil. In 1872, as a member of the Nebraska Board of Agriculture, he pushed for a statewide day to celebrate tree planting.

Arbor Day was proclaimed an official holiday that year in Nebraska, and on one single day--April 10--more than one million trees were planted in the state, prompted in part by the offer of prizes to whomever planted the most trees. Nebraska soon became known as the "Tree Planters State."

However, historians claim the tradition of planting trees to beautify an area actually began in 1630 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was in Boston, according to historical records, that the first shade tree planting for the "public good" occurred in the New World.

Trees provide more benefits than just shade and aesthetic beauty. Trees also:

--help cleanse and purify the air by absorbing carbon dioxide, catching dust particles and other pollutants, and giving off oxygen

--moderate building temperatures and conserve energy by insulating homes and buildings and providing windbreaks

--reduce run-off and erosion

--screen out "eyesores" in the landscape and frame good views in addition to creating privacy, if desired

--help increase the resale value of a home

When planting trees for Arbor Day, or any other time, ensure their good health by following proper planting procedures, proper follow-up care after planting, and proper tree maintenance.

This also means selecting a tree species that grows well in your area and providing the right soil for healthy growth. Before you plant, it's a good idea to check the soil pH and fertility with soil tests.

Plant at the proper depth, that is, the depth at which the tree originally grew. Wrap and stake the newly planted tree if necessary. Mulch around the base of the tree. Following planting, water frequently and heavily once a week.

Good tree care also entails pruning when necessary and proper fertilization. You should follow a sound maintenance program to treat pests and diseases. When horticultural chemicals are needed, always follow label instructions carefully to avoid misuse.

For help in the selection and care of trees, consult the professionals at your local nursery.

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