Arbor Day 2018 – Join Millions of Tree Enthusiasts

You can contribute to Earth’s beauty, clean air, and clean water by planting a tree.

I love planting trees because they are beautiful and unique—like people. On Arbor Day, have fun and do something worthwhile by planting a tree.

Arbor Day is in its 146th year demonstrating that Julius Sterling Morton’s annual tree planting day idea is ageless and calls us to action just as effectively today as it did on April 10, 1872. On the first Arbor Day, over a million trees were planted in Nebraska and a new tradition began that now encompasses the world.

If you are interested in reading about the history of Arbor Day, the Arbor Day Foundation, or how the oak became the United States national tree, you may enjoy Arbor Day 2013 – Plant a Tree. If you are looking for information about why trees are important, consider reading Arbor Day 2017 – Hug a Tree, Plant a Tree.

Why is Arbor Day a Good Day to Plant a Tree?

The sheer number of organizations hosting tree-planting events on or near Arbor Day makes it easy for you to get involved. Enter the name of your town or county and “Arbor Day” into an Internet search window and then select an activity that appeals to you from the list of results.

In many cases, all you need to do is show up or sign up and then show up. Groups looking for volunteer tree planters will usually provide the trees, tools, and at least one person to direct the work. They may also offer food and entertainment for after the work is done. Arbor Day tree planting activities are a great way to get outside with your family and friends and do something that is good for people and the planet.

Tree-planting projects can be small or large. Perhaps your children’s school is planting trees for shade around the lunch area. Maybe your apartment complex has an area perfect for a lemon tree (get permission from the landlord). A local park may be looking for people to help plant trees to beautify and cool the park. A community that has suffered a fire or flood would probably appreciate extra hands to help replant areas where the trees have been lost. State and national parks are often seeking volunteers to help replace trees that have died from fire, drought, or disease.

Another option, if you have a yard, is to focus your energies on planting trees at home. That is what I do.

Planting, Growing and Protecting Trees at Home

We moved from Southern California to the Central Coast ten years ago. Our yard is mostly wild and receives a lot of furry and winged visitors. About five years ago, my spouse and I began a land restoration project around our home with the mission to encourage native plants and trees, discourage invasive plants, and rebuild the soil’s health so it can retain moisture, prevent erosion, and provide nutrients for the plants and trees.

Planting and protecting trees is an important part of our informal and ever-shifting master plan. Flexibility is key in our yard because many trees and plants volunteer to grow wherever their seeds land. For instance, we leave Monterey pine and oak seedlings and carefully weed whack around them in the dry season. However, brooms and thistles are dug out and put in the green waste bin because if left to their own devices they will take over.

We plant most of our trees either in April around Arbor Day or in December as part of our buy one, plant two Christmas tree tradition. Here are a few tree stories.

Avocado Tree

We planted our first avocado tree seedling sometime in 2012. My avocado loving spouse had grown the seedling from a pit from an avocado we bought at the farmers market. Unsure as to whether deer would eat it or not, we planted it in the small fenced-in area behind our house (a former occupant probably had a dog). In the early days, we periodically hiked up the hill with a watering can to give it a drink. It grew slowly.

In 2013, for Arbor Day we planted a second seedling grown from another farmers market avocado pit. Unfortunately, I had unknowingly selected a location near a vole tunneling project and they dug it up. It could not be revived.

My spouse grew another avocado seedling that we planted in a different location for Arbor Day 2014. About the same time, the first avocado tree received an unwanted haircut from a deer. I recounted this incident in my 2014 Arbor Day post. We hand watered the now shorter tiny tree and the new seedling and weeded around them but the seedling did not make it.

Undaunted my spouse grew a fourth avocado seedling and we planted it in the fenced area where it seemed happy but then dried up and died.

You may be thinking this is not the most inspirational tree planting story but it does have a happy ending. The picture above on the right shows the original avocado seedling now as a small tree. Plus it has been joined by three acorns that volunteered to become oak trees. They all made it through the worst of the drought with occasional watering and seem to be working out how to coexist.

Oak Trees

Oak trees grow among Monterey pine trees in the forest and in our yard. I knew oak trees grew slowly but it seemed like the oak trees in our yard were growing substantially slower than a snail’s pace. The oak tree leaves are leathery with pointy spiked edges so we did not think the deer were eating them and we had never seen deer eating leaves on the trees. The trees did not seem to be diseased so we were puzzled.

Until one day in 2013, I was looking out our home office window and noticed a deer munching on one of the oak trees. Aha, deer do eat oak leaves. We had just never caught them at it.

There are mature oaks trees in our neighborhood and of course, in the forest so clearly if an oak tree can get through adolescence to adulthood it can hold its own with the deer.

Fencing in a few oak trees seemed like a good idea. We bought some 4-foot tall wire fencing and posts at the hardware store, then selected five oak trees in different locations around the yard. My spouse reported that hammering the posts into the ground was excellent upper body exercise. I helped with putting the fencing around the posts and closing it with small pieces of wire (we have to open them each year during weed whacking).

To us, the results were miraculous. Protected from grazing deer the trees grew taller and fuller each year.

In the left photo above, you will see part of Monterey pine tree that died later during the drought. The right photo shows a Monterey pine seedling volunteering near the old tree’s stump.

In 2017, we decided to expand our oak tree protection project by enclosing ten more trees, some less than 12” tall. Several of the original trees had outgrown their circular fencing so we expanded it.

California Buckeye and Islay Cherry Trees

I am trying to learn about native plants and trees so last year we joined the San Luis Obispo Chapter of the California Native Plant Society and this year we joined the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. Being surrounded by botanists and native plant gardeners is both daunting and inspiring (I wish I had taken Latin in college).

For Arbor Day 2018, we decided to visit the botanical garden spring plant sale to look for a native tree or two to plant in our yard. I choose a California buckeye tree seedling that is about 24” tall and my spouse opted for a 6” tall Islay cherry tree seedling.

We planted the deer resistant California buckeye seedling in between two protected oak trees and near a tiny coast redwood tree. I am hoping this fast-growing tree will grow quickly and perhaps provide a little shade for the struggling coast redwood I planted two years ago in a spot that is probably too sunny for it.

The Islay cherry seedling found a home next to the stump of a Monterey pine tree that had beautified the area for many decades but died. We hope the old root system will help the Islay cherry with water retention and that it will be company for the Monterey pine seedling growing nearby.

I do not know how long it will take the tree seedlings we have planted to reach maturity or how many years it will take the protected oak trees to grow above deer nibbling height. We may not be living here by then. It does not matter to me because planting and caring for trees is something you do for yourself and the people who come after you.

I hope you will join me and other Arbor Day fans by planting a tree in your yard, participating in a local tree-planting project, or donating a tree for someone else to plant.

Featured Image at Top: Boy sitting beneath a Big Linden Tree Reading a Book – Photo Credit iStock/Solovyova

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All are Welcome at Our Birdbath

Everyone is worthy of being welcomed.

Birdbaths receive a wide range of visitors 24/7 making them intriguing venues for observing community dynamics and how to get along with others.

Of course, not all birdbath visitors are polite and friendly all the time, but everyone has a chance to get a drink of water, take a bath, chat with their neighbors, search for food nearby, or just hang out. Adding to the fun and diversity of interactions is that not all birdbath visitors are actually birds.

While I was writing Birdbaths Attract Birds to Your Yard, it occurred to me that besides being beautiful and engaging to watch, birdbath visitors provide ongoing demonstrations of cooperation, negotiation, and compromise.

Below are several photos and a few stories illustrating that all visitors are welcome at our birdbath and are usually well behaved.

Our yard is mostly wild and our birdbath draws visitors from the surrounding forest in which we live on the California Central Coast. If you have a birdbath in your yard, your visitors will likely be different from ours but we may have some in common, too.

Small and Medium Feathered Birdbath Visitors

By far, small to medium sized birds represent the largest percentage of our birdbath visitors from hummingbirds to crows.

Although we do not have birdbath hours posted, birds tend to come early in the morning or late afternoon. Generally, if more than one species of bird is visiting they will take turns with one group bathing and drinking while the other birds perch nearby on a bush or a tree branch. Sometimes birds of different species will share the birdbath especially if they are more interested in getting a drink of water than bathing.

Once the crows discovered our birdbath, they began bringing foodstuffs and tools when they visit. Crows are smart collaborative birds. They use water to soften dry bread pieces and other desiccated food bits and employ twigs and pebbles to open shells or to pry bark off dead trees to expose bugs.

Large Feathered Birdbath Visitors

Wild turkeys and turkey vultures are now regulars at our birdbath, but it was not always so.

One day a few years ago, I heard a noise outside of our home office and I thought, “That sounds like a turkey.” I got up and looked out the window and sure enough, it was a turkey making gobbling sounds as it cruised through our yard pecking and scratching the ground to turn up bugs.

It was not until the height of the drought that we began to see a flock of turkeys frequently visiting and drinking out of our birdbath. Turkeys are not big flyers but a few times, I have seen several turkeys fly up to stand on the rim or actually in the birdbath to get a drink while their relatives on the ground jostle for position around the basin.

Most afternoons, you can spot turkey vultures flying the ridge over our house but it took a couple of years for an adventurous one to try landing on our birdbath to get a drink.

Turkey vultures are large birds with 6-foot wing spans. They have bald red heads and large hooked beaks suitable for tearing off chunks of road kill making them unattractive birds, that is, until you get know them. The turkey vultures do not hassle other birds at the birdbath. They wait patiently up in one of the trees and then swoop down when it is empty.

Usually, the turkey vultures grab onto the edge of the birdbath, take several gulps of water, and then hurl themselves into the air. One day I looked out the window to see a turkey vulture standing in the middle of the dry (oops) birdbath. It was as if he or she was nonverbally saying, “Excuse me, could I please have some water?”

Furry Birdbath Visitors

There is no fence enclosing our yard so all manner of local furry inhabitants traverse it looking for food, shade, and occasionally partaking of the fresh water in our birdbath.

Various neighborhood cats visit our yard periodically to hunt for voles or field mice and perhaps with hopes of catching a bird unawares (fortunately, they never have). One hot day, I spotted this gray cat leaping up into the birdbath for a drink of water.

California mule deer are frequent visitors especially throughout the wet months when our yard is lush with grasses, perennial plants, and wildflowers. During the dry months, the deer visit to hang out and eat what food they can find.

At the height of the drought, we noticed an increase in birdbath traffic and for the first time, spotted a deer drinking from our birdbath.

Likely, other furry visitors such as raccoons, possums, and skunks visit our birdbath at night when we are asleep.

In the ten years, we have lived here, our birdbath has received thousands of visitors yet I have never witnessed one animal attacking or trying to harm another one at the birdbath. Sure, some skirmishes happen between birds especially when overcrowding occurs but they end in a compromise where no one gets hurt and everyone gets a turn at the birdbath.

Our birdbath visitors never cease to amaze and enlighten me.

If you have a birdbath in your yard, you have probably observed some interesting visitors and behavior yourself. Please share your own birdbath stories with other readers.

Featured Image at Top: Three Crows Hanging Out and Getting a Drink at Our Birdbath

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