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Arbor Day traces its history to April 10, 1872, when J. Sterling Morton organized the planting of a million trees across the state of Nebraska. The tradition spread with the efforts of John Peaslee, Cincinnati's schools superintendent, who incorporated ideas of memorial groves and student participation. The two men later engaged in a tug-of-war over "ownership" of Arbor Day, with Morton ultimately winning. (To read about this episode and more related to trees throughout United States history, check out the excellent, fascinating book Urban Forests by Jill Jonnes.)
Today, national Arbor Day is marked on the last Friday in April. (Some states also celebrate a second Arbor Day on a different date that typically lines up with their planting season.)
In 1922, Joy Morton's son founded the Morton Arboretum. It is a 1,700-acre tree museum and research center located in Lisle, Illinois. The arboretum is dedicated to encouraging the planting and conservation of trees and other plants.
Morton Arboretum staff offered Horticulture these tips for planting a tree:
Match the needs of your tree with the conditions of your site.
Place the tree in a location where it can achieve its mature size.
Call your local utility locator before planting to ensure that the area is free of underground cables and the roots will have the space they need.
Remove as much of the packaging as possible, including all pots, twine, wire and burlap.
Make sure the roots aren’t circling the root ball before planting. If they are, square off the root ball to encourage the roots to grow outward.
Don’t plant your tree too deeply. The area where the trunk widens to the roots, called the root flare, should show above ground. You may need to pull some dirt away from the trunk to find the root flare.
Mulch around the tree in a flattened circle with two to three inches of organic material. Keep the mulch away from the trunk, though.
Most young trees do not need to be staked or fertilized at planting.
Don’t be afraid to prune a young tree to enhance its structure or remove damaged growth.
Keep the tree watered consistently until its root system has a chance to re-establish.
For a complete guide to planting and caring for trees, shrubs and other garden plants, as well as the soil that supports them, Horticulture recommends The New Gardener's Handbook by Daryl Beyers.
Image credit: Public Domain