One of the oldest environmental observances will take place all over America on Friday, April 30. That’s when we observe the 149th Arbor Day. The first was held in Nebraska in 1872, and soon, each state scheduled Arbor Day during the best time to plant trees in that state. Since 1970, the last Friday in April has been recognized as National Arbor Day.
J. Sterling Morton is credited with the birth of Arbor Day. When Morton, a newspaper editor and politician, moved from Illinois to Nebraska City in the Nebraska territory, he was surprised by the lack of trees, and set out to change that. One million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day, April 10, 1872.
Arbor Day can be a real teaching moment for families. Sometimes schools observe the day by sending a tree seedling in a styrofoam cup home with each student. Some get planted and some don’t. Some get planted in the back yard with no protection around them and fall victim to the lawn mower. This year, hybrid and remote learning programs may cause cancellation of this tradition.
If your child brings home a seedling, I suggest planting it in a container to give it a better chance of surviving. Find a container that’s big enough to hold all the roots. Don’t pick one that’s too big or weeds will grow in it and use up all the nutrients you want for the tree. Some seedlings may be small enough for a 4” nursery pot. Other seedlings may need a bigger container but I doubt if any will need one larger than one gallon.
To plant the tree, put some potting mix in the bottom of the pot. Then have someone hold the tree up in the pot so the roots are just below the top of the pot. Fill with potting mix all around the tree roots. Then push down on the soil until the tree stands up on its own. Be careful not to compact the potting mix and don’t plant the tree too deep. Finally, water well.
Trees aren’t houseplants. They have to live outside, so place it on the deck or patio, or in one of your planting beds. Keep it watered. For the winter, find a spot that’s sheltered from the wind but still gets sunlight. Wrap the pot in bubble wrap or other insulating material and put plenty of mulch around the pot. Each spring, transplant it to a bigger pot until it’s big enough to join the other trees in your yard and still survive.
If you don’t get a seedling, you can schedule a family outing to your local garden center to buy a sapling or larger tree and plant it in the yard together as a family. Dig a hole two or three times wider than the root diameter but only as deep as the rootball. Remove the tree from its pot before placing it in the hole and backfilling. If it’s balled and in burlap, put the tree in the hole and cut the string or wire holding the burlap in place but leave the burlap. It’ll rot away. Backfill being careful not to plant the tree below grade level. Tamp down the backfill and water well. Don’t stake unless it is in a windy area.
When selecting your tree, be sure it’s the right tree for the place you’re planning to plant it.
Regardless of how you observe it, have a happy Arbor Day.