Imagine if Everyone Planted One Tree

Connect with your inner tree hugger.

The seemingly small act of planting a tree can help heal our planet and the people living on it. Collectively we have the power to reforest the Earth.

A wonderful aspect of tree planting is that it enables you to do something positive with lasting value using your own two hands. If you can safely operate a shovel and a watering can, you can plant a tree.

“The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!’”

John F. Kennedy

This post is a continuation of a tree planting story that began on a cold winter evening last January in the community room of the Rabobank down the street from our house.

My spouse and I had walked to the Cambria Forest Committee meeting to hear Rick Hawley from Greenspace talk about Monterey pine trees (we live in a Monterey pine forest).

Six months later, I am caring for 18 Monterey pine seedlings that we planted in our yard and 78 Monterey pine sprouts that I grew from seeds for a tree-planting project in our public forest.

If you are interested in catching up from the beginning of the story, read the posts Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees and Arbor Day 2019 – Let’s Plant Trees. Or just pick up the thread here.

Caring for Tree Seedlings

My original plan had been to plant 40 Monterey pine tree seedlings in our yard as part of a larger effort to restore our small patch of land.

Fortunately, I came to my senses before buying 40 seedlings.

I was already watching over about twenty pots that I had planted with native plant seeds and a dozen or so plant seedlings growing in our yard. It occurred to me that perhaps trying to keep track of 40 tiny tree seedlings would be a bit daunting.

I decided to buy 20 seedlings and called Rick Hawley to arrange to pick them up at Greenspace’s office.

On a sunny day at the end of January, my spouse and I carefully scouted locations in our yard and planted the 12” tall Monterey pine tree seedlings.

Almost immediately, I realized I would need some kind of markers or I would not be able to find the seedlings as the wild grasses surrounding them continued growing up to 4-6 feet tall.

Walking around the yard installing the markers we discovered that one seedling had had an accident and died and one seedling was never found. That left us with 18.

The first two months or so we continued to have rain so the seedlings did not require supplemental watering. I weed-whacked paths leading to the areas where the seedlings were growing so I could check on them periodically.

Who Needs Water Next?

I knew the rain would stop at some point and that the seedlings would need to be watered during the dry season to help them become established in their new homes.

Our yard does not have irrigation so that meant watering by hand with my 2-gallon watering can.

We had kept a few plants and Rosie our venerable climbing rose bush alive during the drought with the watering can and buckets so this seemed reasonable to me. Besides, I would be able to keep a close eye on what was going on with the seedlings.

Boy was I naive.

When it was only native plants in the yard, pots on the deck, and some house plants needing watering, I could easily keep an informal watering rotation schedule in my head. But, after the first month of watering the 18 tree seedlings, I could not keep track of who needed to be watered next.

Using a spreadsheet program I created a simple schedule and posted it on our refrigerator. At the end of each watering day, I check off what I have watered. Sometimes I do not have time to water on a specific day so I mark the day that I did water. I do not water the plants every week, but I do water the Monterey pine tree seedlings once a week.

Monterey Pine Seedling 10 after 6 Months - August 4, 2019
At about 23″ tall Monterey pine seedling 10 has doubled in height since it was planted in our yard 6 months ago – August 4, 2019.
Time Crunch

Hiking around the yard carrying 16 pounds of water sloshing around in a watering can is good exercise. I enjoyed visiting the tree seedlings to see how they were doing and felt happy that they looked well.

California Poppy Growing in Our Yard - May 1, 2019

This constant traipsing through the yard also enabled me to spot wildflowers here and there and even an occasional California poppy before a mule deer cruising through the yard spotted it and ate it.

Unfortunately, all that watering was more time consuming than I had anticipated. As much as I love being outside in the yard, like most people, I have many other commitments so I needed a way to make watering take less time.

Using hoses seemed like an obvious and simple solution so my spouse and I headed to the local hardware store where we purchased two hoses and two brass nozzles. We attached the hoses to spigots on the exterior of our house.

About half the seedlings cannot be reached by either hose. In this case, I drag a hose as far as I can and then fill up the watering can from that location reducing the distance I need to walk back and forth refilling the can.

Problem solved.

Next, we will look in on the progress of the Monterey pine tree sprouts that germinated from the seeds I planted for the forest tree-planting project.

Growing Trees from Seeds

Rick Hawley Helping People Plant Monterey Pine Seeds at Earth Day on April 21, 2019
Rick Hawley (blue shirt) from Greenspace helping tree enthusiasts plant Monterey pine seeds at Earth Day on April 21, 2019 – photo courtesy of Greenspace.

When my spouse and I arrived at the Greenspace Earth Day festival on April 21, I was excited to see Rick Hawley at his Monterey pine seed booth. He handed me a rack of 98 tubes mostly filled with soil and a plastic bag containing 100 seeds.

Linda Poppenheimer Planting Monterey Pine Seeds at Earth Day - April 21, 2019
This is me sitting in the shade of a tree planting Monterey pine seeds in a rack containing 98 tubes at Earth Day on April 21, 2019.

When we arrived home with our precious cargo, we discussed possible locations for placing the rack where it would get sun and a bit of shade. The deck outside our kitchen and dining room seemed an ideal location so we put two small slatted wooden tables together and set the rack on it.

Mindful of what Rick had said about birds grabbing the seed casing attached to the top of sprouts and then “accidentally” ripping the sprout out, I asked my handy spouse to make a cover for the seedling rack. Several days later, I placed a removable chicken wire box over the rack.

I watered the seed tubes weekly and waited.

It Takes Many Seeds to Grow a Tree
Monterey Pine Seed Rack First Sprout - May 13, 2019

On May 13th I was thrilled to spot two sprouts. The seed casings were still attached so I was glad for the protective cover. By mid-June, 16 tree sprouts were visible growing above the rims of the tubes.

To me, this seemed low considering that I had planted 98 seeds.

I felt like a loser like I had done something wrong but I had no idea what. Would the seeds have done better in a different location or with more or less water?

Hmm, perhaps my feeling of failure was a holdover from the decades I had spent working in corporate America where performance metrics are used to determine your value and measure you against other employees.

When I thought about it some more, I realized that a Monterey pine tree produces pine cones with thousands of seeds in the hope that at least one will make it to maturity.

I contacted Rick and asked him if I could have more seeds. Of course, he said yes.

On June 18, I carefully planted 82 seeds in the empty tubes. By July 11, there were a total of 49 sprouts growing in the rack. A couple of days later, I planted the remaining seeds in the empty tubes.

As of yesterday, I am tending 78 Monterey pine tree seedlings of various ages.

Monterey Pine Seed Rack with Cover - August 4, 2019
This is the chicken wire cover my spouse made to protect our Monterey pine sprouts. In the sixth tube from the left in the front row you can see a seed casing attached to a new sprout – August 4, 2019.

Every morning, I walk out onto the deck greeting the seedlings and asking them how they are doing. Yes, I am one of those people who talks to plants. I also converse with the birds, deer, and other animals who visit our yard.

Come November, I am looking forward to meeting and talking with the other tree growers and planting our trees.

Imagine if you, I, and everyone else who is old enough to use a shovel planted just one tree. We would have billions of additional trees generating oxygen, being beautiful, sequestering carbon dioxide, giving shade, and helping heal our planet—and us.

“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.”

Wangari Maathai

Featured Image at Top: This is my rack of Monterey pine sprouts on August 4, 2019.

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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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