Where Do You Get Your Trees?

National Arbor Day is April 28, 2017 and many will mark the event by planting a tree.  How many of those trees will actually live to see maturity?  The information in the following (initially written for Florida Arbor Day which is in January) may help YOUR selection have better odds for success.

Dateline:   January 13, 2012*

Sycamore from a local plant sale

Happy Arbor Day (well almost). Ok…are you scratching your head and wondering if I’ve lost my sense of time? In seven days, on the third Friday of January, it will be Arbor Day for both Florida and Louisiana…two states who appear to want to be first in the nation. We are all familiar with National Arbor Day that is the last Friday in April and celebrated by 28 states as their State holiday. Did you know that in addition to the national holiday many states have another date? They choose them according to their best tree-planting times. When does your state hoist the shovels to celebrate?

So, you’ve found out WHEN, then there is the question of WHAT…finding a tree to plant for Arbor Day. Despite the Arbor Day Foundation (ADF) trying to “inspire people to plant” by offering 10 free trees with membership, I always try to discourage this. Wait…don’t get your pansies in a bunch, I think supporting a non-profit is a commendable thing to do, but please forego the free trees delivered to your house. Choose “No trees” or the “10 Trees Planted in our Nation’s Forests in Your Honor”** option instead.

Let me explain why. How many of us have been excited to get our free trees only to struggle to get them established while we watch them fail to flourish or die a slow death. I sometimes think that homeowners who get these free trees become discouraged to plant due to failure of the specimens to thrive. At my own place, a friend who got their free trees gave me two crepe myrtles (not native to Florida, I KNOW, but considered “Florida-Friendly“). Well, those things have been planted since 2006 and are still barely 1-1/2 feet tall and one has yet to flower.  UPDATE 2017: Now about 6 foot tall with sparse branches and minimal flowering they are on the list to be removed since naturally occurring natives have filled in close by.

All ten trees that I received with my membership that same year are dead, despite nursing them according to instructions. If I hadn’t learned about native plants since their “burial” and local provenance, I’d be cursing Florida’s ability to provide a proper garden, blaming the sand that pretends to be soil. Apparently it is that the poor trees just aren’t adapted to the soil conditions or our climate. Heck, it even took me a while to get used to Florida where you can run the a/c and the heat on the same day.

Pinus spp. planted by a bird or the wind. Local provenance assured

Provenance can be a crucial factor in a tree’s ability to live a good long life and using a nursery within a 100-mile radius of the intended planting site will go a long way toward achieving better success. In addition, the question of the importance of genetic diversity and also the possible affect that outside specimens could have on our native populations through pollination or seed dispersal is often brought into discussion.

While purchasing with provenance in mind might give you a head start toward success, that’s not to say that you don’t have to baby a native tree during its young life. While we tout that native plants use fewer resources such as water and are generally carefree, even native trees need regular watering and care in order to get established.

I transplanted this red maple while a single leaf in my driveway to a pot and then into it’s current location

I say when your state celebrates Arbor Day, find a nice native plant nursery in your locale to purchase your tree and support local business at the same time. I have a couple of Red Maple (Acer rubrum) seedlings purchased at our Master Gardener sale that are on tap for planting. And I also noticed a Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) volunteer under the momma tree that I will relocate (at least to a pot).
One of these acorns produced a “vounteer” seedling for me to transplant

Oh…and you gotta love South Carolina. They must be a hearty bunch as they get out there on the first Friday in December to celebrate their Arbor Day.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on January 13, 2012 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

**This option doesn’t seem to be available any longer.

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