PLANT A TREE FOR ARBOR DAY
Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus
University of Vermont
Arbor Day is a day recognized in each state as 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. Arbor Day is the first Friday in May in Vermont, the last Friday in April in many states, and even earlier in southern and some western states.
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
Arbor Day had its origin in the Great Plains in the 1800’s.
Settlers, arriving from the East, found vast open stretches of
land but no trees. So they 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 and finally settled in Nebraska, is credited as the
father of Arbor Day. An early conservationist and President Grover
Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture, 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. Being the editor
of Nebraska’s finest newspaper helped him to further his cause and
that of trees.
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." Other states passed
legislation during the 1870’s to observe an Arbor Day. In 1882,
this observance began in schools nationwide.
Trees provide more benefits than just shade and aesthetic beauty.
According to the Arbor Day Foundation—the organization that now
coordinates and promotes efforts related to this day
(www.arborday.org), trees “clean air and water, slow climate
change, ease poverty and hunger, prevent species loss, and feed
the human soul.” Specifically, trees:
--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 water run-off and soil erosion during storms
--provide food for humans and animals from fruit trees
--provide habitat for insects—the main food of birds
--screen out "eyesores" in the landscape and frame good views in addition to creating privacy
--increase the resale value of homes
When planting trees for Arbor Day—spring is one of the best times
for planting trees-- or any other time, ensure their good health
by following proper planting procedures, proper follow-up care
after planting, and proper tree maintenance.
This 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
Plant at the proper depth-- the depth at which the “root flare”
is at the soil surface. This is the area at the trunk base that
flares outward. Often this may be buried beneath soil in a root
ball or pot, so make sure to brush any top soil away until it is
Wrap and stake the newly planted tree if necessary—if it will be
exposed to frequent and heavy winds. Mulch around the base of the
tree, but not up against the trunk. Making a “volcano” of mulch
around the tree base, as is commonly seen, may kill that bark and
eventually the tree over time. Following planting, water
frequently and heavily once a week.
Return to Perry's Perennial Pages: Green Mountain Gardener Articles-- your reliable source of gardening information for over 50 years.