By PAUL HETZLER
Velcro Appreciation Day. Hair Follicle Hygiene Week. Arbor Day. You know that you have an obscure event on your hands when the greeting-card industry doesn't even bother to capitalize on it.
While it's not the most well-known observance, Arbor Day has a respectable history, as well as a local connection. Begun in 1872 by Adams, N.Y. native J. Sterling Morton, Arbor Day, observed on the last Friday in April, is intended as a day when family, friends and neighbors get together to plant trees.
Morton believed that tree planting is a noble act, and that each tree planted makes our nation just a little bit better. J. Sterling Morton went on to become rich and famous with his Morton Salt Company, and Arbor Day went on to become a somewhat obscure, but beneficial, tradition.
Trees benefit us and our communities in many ways, some of which are surprising. Many people have heard that trees decrease home energy costs, increase property value, filter pollutants and all that. But did you know that shoppers spend more money when there are trees in a downtown shopping district, and that homes sell faster on tree-lined streets? And that hospital patients have better outcomes when they have trees within their view, and crime rates drop significantly when urban neighborhoods are planted with trees? And that lying under a shade tree in summer reverses male-pattern baldness? OK, I made that last part up, but the rest is true.
Location, location, location. Turns out that the three most important factors in real estate also apply to tree planting. If your planting site is under utility wires, or has restricted space for branches or roots, or limited access to sunlight, choose a tree that will be happy there even when full-grown. Resolving tree conflicts with buildings, wires and roads are aggravating and costly. Taking time to pick the right tree for the right site will be good for your wallet as well as your yard.
In native soil that's reasonably fertile (i.e. the grass is healthy), amendments like peat moss or compost are usually not necessary. If the soil is very sandy or is fill or construction debris, blend in up to one-third organic matter by volume. Beware of adding peat moss to clay soil—that's how they make bricks.
The planting hole should be two to three times the diameter of the root system, but no deeper. Set the root ball on undisturbed soil so the root flare is just at ground level. It's better to plant a little shallow than too deep. Before backfilling, remove all burlap, twine and wire, and straighten and tease out any circling roots.
Avoid fertilizers in the first year, and unless the site is unusually windy it’s best not to stake the tree. Two to four inches of mulch (not touching the trunk) over the planting area will help conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Check the soil often to be sure it's soil moist, but not waterlogged.
Have a happy Arbor Day—planting a tree is a great activity to share with loved ones, and a great investment in the future. And maybe someone could petition Hallmark to develop some greeting cards for Arbor Day.
Paul Hetzler is a forester and a horticulture and natural resources educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.