By Tivon Feeley
Iowa State University Extension
Soon winter will be over and the spring sunshine will be here. What better way to beat the winter blues than to venture outdoors this spring and enjoy the flowers, green grass and the trees that are leafing out. However, you may have noticed that something has changed, fewer trees. From the early maps of Iowa we can determine that two-thirds of Iowa’s original forest is gone. In fact, last year more trees were removed from many of our urban communities than planted.
Why is this important? Besides enjoying the aesthetics, trees shelter us from wind and sun, buffer noise in cities, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, provide homes for wildlife and help conserve Iowa’s soil and water quality. In the United States, a day has been set aside to encourage tree planting in each state. That day is known as Arbor Day.
The idea for Arbor Day originated during the settlement of the Nebraska Territory. J. Sterling Morton, a journalist and nature enthusiast, was a pioneer to the territory. Morton became the editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper where he shared his enthusiasm for trees through his writings. On Jan. 4, 1872, he proposed a holiday dedicated to tree planting called Arbor Day. The first Arbor Day in the U.S. was celebrated on April 10, 1872, in the state of Nebraska. Since that time, states passed their own legislation to observe Arbor Day during times that coincide with the best tree planting weather. In Iowa, Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April.
Today, there are numerous communities, volunteer groups, schools, societies and associations that participate in Arbor Day plantings. However, there are some considerations that need to be made before planting your trees.
First of all, determine the purpose of the tree. Is the planting for shade where a larger deciduous tree would be needed, or is the planting for wind/noise protection where a conifer should be planted.
Also, consider the planting site. Select a planting site that is clear, above and below ground, of utility lines and has ample room for a tree to grow. Before purchasing the tree, make certain that the soil type in the planting area is suitable for that tree. Most trees will grow and survive in a variety of soil types, but the best growth and health is achieved in a narrow range of soil types. Check with your local nursery to ensure that the tree selected is adapted to the soil type in the planting area.
The newly purchased tree(s) should be planted as soon as possible to help minimize transplant shock. The month of April offers mild temperatures and adequate moisture levels that help reduce transplant shock, which is one of the reasons why the state of Iowa selected the last Friday in April as Arbor Day.
The planting hole needs to be two to three times the width of the rootball, and deep enough to allow the root collar to be level to slightly higher than the surrounding grade. Planting the tree too deeply prevents the roots from receiving the oxygen need to survive. Carefully remove the pot, wires or burlap from the rootball before placing the tree in the hole. Gently backfill the hole with the original soil. Do not add any amendments.
Once the backfilling is complete, firm up the soil by stepping around the hole to remove extra air pockets that may lead to uneven settling. Finally, water and mulch around the tree. Adding mulch will help maintain the soil moisture, reduce competition from turfgrass, and helps eliminate potential mower damage. Mulch to a depth of 3 to 4 inches, making sure that the mulch does not contact the tree’s trunk.
Plan to get involved this Arbor Day (April 28) and plant a tree in your area. For more information on planting trees look over ISU Extension publications Community Tree Planting and Care Guide (PM 1591), Tree Planting: Planning (PM 1676), and Tree Planting: Establishment and Care (PM 1677.) Copies of these publications are available through you local ISU Extension county office, online at www.extension.iastate.edu/store/ or by calling (515) 294-5247.