Plant a tree this Arbor Day

Get ready, gather your supplies, and go plant a tree: Arbor Day is Friday, April 30.

What fun to plant a tree and watch it grow. Maybe it’s marking a new addition to your family. Perhaps it is a birthday tradition or celebration of a marriage or remembrance. Maybe you need a shade tree; whatever your reason, I encourage you to plant a tree.

Arbor Day is always the last Friday in April. The ideal season to plant a tree.

Well, unless you live in Hawaii — then it’s the first Friday in November, or Alaska, the third Monday in May. Again, it’s all about picking a time that will allow the new tree to thrive when planted.

Nearly 150 years ago, on April 10, 1872, founder Julius Sterling Morton created Arbor Day in Nebraska City, Nebraska. Nearly one million trees were planted in Nebraska on that day and it wasn’t long before Arbor Day was celebrated in every state of the nation. Morton made a career of his love of trees and, in 1893, was appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture by President Grover Cleveland.

It all started when Morton moved from the East Coast to Nebraska with his new bride. Their farm was 160 acres of land but had no trees. Over time, he and his family planted thousands of trees, including an apple orchard, peach trees, plum trees, and pear trees. Of course, there are evergreens and many others. His family home is now Arbor Lodge, a state park in Nebraska City.

Feeling inspired? Early spring or autumn are good times to plant trees and shrubs. As with most things in life, preparation is key. Pick your location and remember the mature size of the tree. Make sure it has room to grow to its full size.

After deciding on the ideal location, it is time to dig. You will want your planting hole at least twice the width and almost as deep as your root ball. Don’t skimp here — size matters. You want the roots to have room to spread out and find their way into the soil to create a strong, sturdy base.

A note about root balls: If you are ordering or buying bare root plants, that is exactly what you get. The plants will not be in soil, they will have bare roots. These plants are shipped when dormant and the roots will need to be hydrated before planting. Let them soak in water or at the very least under wet paper overnight. If buying them in a potted container, you may need to loosen the roots before planting, especially if they are wound tightly once released from the pot.

Back to digging and creating your planting spot. I learned a new term for something I thought was just happening to me. When slicing through the soil to create the depth of your hole, the sides of the earth can become “glazed” or very smooth and almost shiny. This glazed area can be difficult for young roots to grow through, so rough up the side, which will make it easier for the roots to spread.

It used to be that before placing the tree or shrub in the newly dug hole, we would add freshly amended soil; now, the thinking is that this amended soil gives the tree all the nutrients it needs, and it will not send roots out into other areas looking for food. So, place your root ball without added soil.

As you backfill or place the soil around the roots, it’s okay to water when about halfway done. Then continue filling in. I usually mound the soil around the trunk, knowing that it will settle in or wash away as I continue to water. But what you don’t want to do is create a “volcano” of soil or mulch around the tree trunk; this will encourage disease and rot.

Your new tree will be thirsty. Water it often, especially the first month. Give it enough water to reach the roots. As the plant grows, you can begin to move outside of the planting circle as you water because the roots will be growing outward away from the trunk.

You may need to add a little support as it gains height. Use a stake or two, tie it loosely with twine and adjust as it grows. For young saplings, I cover them with tomato cages or wire to protect them from deer and wind during those early tender months.

Let’s not forget Earth Day, April 22. A day to notice, appreciate and learn to care for the environment. They are not the same, but I love that they fall together and serve as reminders of our one shot to protect and preserve the land and air.

Whatever your reason, I encourage you to plant a tree. I will use the new tree to honor and remember someone I loved. Dogwoods remind me of my mom; this may be the tree I choose to plant on Arbor Day.