Arbor Day 2019 – Let’s Plant Trees

For the love of trees.

This Arbor Day, or any day, plant a tree in honor of a tree you have loved or love now. If you, I, and everyone else did this, we could reforest Earth.

There are infinite reasons that people love trees. Here are a few of my own.

When I visit a park on a hot sunny day, the tree with the biggest canopy providing the most shade draws me towards it. I stand in awe when I spot a majestic hawk perched on a branch in a Monterey pine tree outside my dining room window. The memory of biting into fresh juicy peaches that I picked from the trees in our back yard when I was a kid is still fresh in my mind. Watching the birds flit from tree to tree in our yard in a dizzying pattern is always entertaining. When I look up at the giant trees in a redwood forest, I feel a sense of wonder and peace.

Redwood Trees in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park - August, 2013
I took this photo of the majestic redwood trees in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park during a trip with my family to California’s redwood coast in August 2013.

Pause here for a few minutes to envision the trees in your own life.

Before we talk more about trees, perhaps an Arbor Day history refresher would be helpful.

Arbor Day and Its Founder

This year, Arbor Day is even more fun for me because last September I visited Nebraska City, Nebraska, the home of Arbor Day, with two wonderful long-time friends. I also recently finished reading a biography written by James C. Olson about its founder J. Sterling Morton.

J. Sterling Morton

Julius Sterling Morton, called J. Sterling Morton so as not be confused with his father Julius Dewey Morton, was born on April 22, 1832, and lived to be 70. He grew up in Monroe, Michigan. At 22, he and his new wife Caroline Joy French headed to the wide-open plains of Nebraska where Morton hoped to become famous and wealthy.

During his life, Morton was a farmer, newspaper editor, political candidate, railroad lobbyist, and did a brief stint as the acting Governor for the Territory of Nebraska. He was a staunch believer that Nebraska could and should be an agricultural powerhouse. Planting both fruit and forest trees were essential to his mission.

Morton and his tree-planting advocacy led to the first Arbor Day on Wednesday, April 10, 1872, in Nebraska. Now, almost 150 years later, tree enthusiasts all over the world plant trees for Arbor Day.

J Sterling Morton Sitting in a Chair in Washington, DC - April 25, 1895

This photo shows J. Sterling Morton sitting in a chair in his office in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 1895, during his tenure as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture during President Grover Cleveland’s administration.

Photo courtesy of The Morton Arboretum.

During his four years as Secretary, Morton endeavored to bring fiscal responsibility to the Department of Agriculture and he did. He was also responsible for expanding the number of jobs classified as civil service to ensure operational continuity when a new president came into office and appointed new leadership.

In 1898, Morton founded a weekly newspaper called The Conservative, which kept him active and writing until the end of his life in 1902.

My impression of J. Sterling Morton is that he was opinionated, ambitious, stubborn, loyal, and honest. He was a Democrat and a racist that dearly loved his wife and family.

Arbor Day Farm and Arbor Lodge

Nowadays, Arbor Day Farm is a tourist attraction with orchards, outdoor trails, and year-round events. The grounds contain a greenhouse, tree shipping operation, movie theater, gift shop, and a cafe. The day we visited, it was sunny and hot. An apple cider float from the cafe tasted delicious and was delightfully cool.

Nearby, we toured Arbor Lodge where J. Sterling Morton and his wife Caroline raised four sons and farmed on 160 acres of land.

Reading the biography was interesting because it gave me a glimpse of life on the Nebraska frontier in the mid to late 19th century as seen through the eyes of Morton. It was entertaining, too, mostly because I have actually visited some of the places referred to in the book.

For instance, my friends and I stayed in Bellevue, where Morton and his wife lived for several months when they first arrived from Michigan. We also visited Omaha the site of much of the political intrigue in the book

The first house built by the Morton’s was more or less a log cabin. They serially remodeled the house into a stately mansion they called Arbor Lodge. My friends and I took a guided tour through Arbor Lodge, which is now a museum and historical state park. We walked around the study where Morton wrote his letters, speeches, and newspaper articles. Many of these provided reference material for the James C. Olson book I spotted in the tiny gift shop area and bought.

Besides spending time with my friends and meeting a bison face-to-face, the highlight of the trip for me was visiting Arbor Day Farm and Arbor Lodge.

I hope you feel more informed about Arbor Day and its founder J. Sterling Morton. Now, let’s talk trees.

Monterey Pine Seedling Project

My Arbor Day 2019 celebration began in February when I planted twenty Monterey pine tree seedlings in my yard, which is in the midst of a beautiful yet struggling Monterey pine forest. I recounted the planting experience in the post, entitled Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees. In this post, we will look at how the seedlings are doing two months later and how I dealt with unanticipated challenges that I probably should have anticipated.

I knew I would need to regularly check on the seedlings and water them during their first year or so of living in their new locations. We have no irrigation system so that means me making numerous trips around the yard carrying a 2-gallon watering can full of water.

While I was planting the seedlings, I realized that I would need some kind of a marker to put near the seedlings or I might never be able to find them again once the wild grasses grew over a foot tall. Here the grass will get to be four to six feet tall so you can probably imagine the problem of trying to spot a tiny, also green, tree seedling amidst a sea of grass.

My spouse offered to make some markers but we could not find any suitable material on hand. We purchased four-foot long slender bamboo poles at our local nursery. My spouse attached little pieces of cloth from a worn out t-shirt on the top of each pole to act like a flag.

In early March, we walked around the yard to the areas that we knew we had planted the seedlings in groups and tapped a marker into the soil beside each one. Unfortunately, we were not able to locate one of the seedlings so we were down to nineteen.

Next, it occurred to me that the seedlings might appreciate some breathing room from the competing grasses so I decided to weed a small circle around each one and then spread wood chips to help keep moisture in the soil. My spouse and I hand weeded and used the smaller of our two weed whackers to clear space around the seedlings.

One of the seedlings had an accident so now we were down to eighteen.

Fortunately, I spotted this tiny tree volunteering to grow near some of the seedlings we had planted. I do not think it is a Monterey pine but we adopted it into the fold. Now we are back to nineteen seedlings.

Whew, we could sit back and relax.

Not long after, one day as I was admiring the grasses waving in the wind, I realized that even if I could spot the flags, I would have to bushwhack my way through the grasses carrying 16 pounds of water every time I gave the tree seedlings a drink.

This time we cracked out the big electric weed whacker to clear paths through the now 4-foot tall grasses. The tree seedlings seem happy.

Okay, now we can sit back and relax until it is time to make the rounds again with the watering can.

Earth Day and Arbor Day Combined

Just yesterday, at an Earth Day event in our town I met up with Rick Hawley from Greenspace, again. He is the guy I met at the January Cambria Forest Committee meeting that led to our Monterey pine tree seedling project. At the meeting, he was displaying a rack of 98 itsy bitsy seedlings he had grown from seeds. I coveted them.

Now, I have my own rack of 98 Monterey pine seeds I just planted. I hope they will all germinate and grow into seedlings for planting in a nearby forest area that needs trees.

Rack of Monterey Pine Seeds Planted at Earth Day Event - April 21, 2019
These 98 tubes filled with soil and one Monterey pine tree seed each are now in my care until November when the other seedling growers and I will gather to plant them.

The native plants that I am growing from seeds welcomed their new friends onto the deck outside our dining room.

Of course, you can choose to celebrate Arbor Day however, you wish. I hope you will join millions of tree huggers and me who are demonstrating our love of trees and people by planting tree seeds, seedlings, and trees in our yards, parks, and forests.

Featured Image at Top: The Morton Oak, the lone survivor of what was once an oak savanna. This photo and the photos of Arbor Lodge and Arbor Day Farm are courtesy of Arbor Day Farm.

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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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