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Arbor Day, a day for trees

While the National Arbor Day is always in April, many Floridians do not know that Florida’s Arbor Day is the third Friday in January. In 2022 that date is  Friday, January 21st. This early date is perfect for planting trees in northeast Florida. The trees have time to start establishing themselves before the typical dry spring months of March, April, and May. Later in this article, I will address choosing a quality tree to celebrate Arbor Day, but first let’s reveal the origins of this important day.

The history of Arbor Day

The first Arbor Day took place on April 10, 1872 in Nebraska. It was championed by J. Sterling Morton. He was a newspaper editor that moved to Nebraska from Detroit, Michigan in 1854. He believed that the treeless plains of Nebraska would benefit from the planting of trees. He set the example by planting orchards, shade trees and windbreaks on his family farm.

Morton used his skill as a journalist to promote sound agricultural information, as well as, the benefits of trees. He soon became the editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper and developed a devoted readership. He recommended the newest agricultural techniques to farmers that included planting trees. He advised farmers to plant trees as windbreaks reducing soil erosion, to be used for fuel wood and to produce shade. He not only wrote about the benefits of planting trees for farmers but encouraged citizen groups and civic organization s to plant trees as well. You could say he was a role model for the modern-day extension service.

Morton first proposed a holiday for the planting of trees as a member of Nebraska’s State Board of Agriculture at a meeting on January 4, 1872. The holiday was set for April 10, 1872. The first Arbor Day included prizes for counties and individuals that planted the most trees on that day. It was a huge success. An estimated one million trees were planted on that day.

In 1874, the Governor of Nebraska officially proclaimed Arbor Day as April 10th. In 1885 Arbor Day became a legal holiday in Nebraska and was celebrated annually on April 22, which is Morton’s birthday. The Arbor Day concept soon spread to Kansas, Tennessee, Minnesota, and Ohio all proclaiming their own holidays to plant trees. Today, Arbor Day is celebrated in all fifty states. The dates coincide with the optimal tree planting season.

Choosing a quality tree

Before you take off and go to the nursery to pick out a tree, lets go over some of the attributes of a quality tree nursery tree. Starting off with a quality tree will be a good start to planting a tree that performs well in the landscape. Quality trees can establish quicker, be healthier, withstand storms, and live longer than lower quality trees.

Tree Size:  Sometimes you may be tempted to purchase the largest tree you can find.  However, larger trees take much longer to establish and require much more irrigation than smaller trees.   Also, in poorly drained areas smaller trees are better suited since their rootball is shallower.

The proper location of the root flare in a container grown tree.
Image Credit: Dr. Ed Gilman UF/IFAS

Root Flare:  The root flare is the part of the tree where the roots “flare” off the trunk.  In a nursery tree the root flare should be visible.  It is like the base of a wine glass where the stem of the glass meets the base.  If the tree trunk emerges from the container like a fence post, then the tree is too deep in the container.  Before planting, you will need to remove the media in the container until the root flare is exposed.

Circling Roots:  Trees with extensive roots circling around the inside edge of the container should not be purchased.  The circling roots should be cut, and a tree with extensive large circling roots will be damaged too much.  Roots that are wrapping around the trunk are called girdling roots.  These roots will eventually choke out the tree and will need to be cut out as well.  Both circling roots, and girdling roots are defects that should be avoided.

Trunk Structure:  Trees with poor trunk structure will require more maintenance to correct defects.  Poor trunk structure is correlated with less wind tolerance as well.  Purchasing a tree with good trunk structure will pay off in the long run with a safer tree as it grows.  Poor quality trees have two or more trunks.  It may look nice, but it is a defect with long term consequences.  Good quality trees have a single trunk and one dominant leader.  Of course, trees that are typically multi trunked such as ligustrum and chaste tree are naturally found as multiple trunked trees and do not have to be corrected.

For more information on Arbor day find it on the web at www.arborday.org

For more information on selecting quality trees go to: https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/documents/ch_10_mw04.pdf

For More information on proper tree planting go to: http://hort.ufl.edu/woody/documents/EP314.pdf