Arbor Day and How to Plant a Tree

The cultivation of flowers and trees is the cultivation of the good, the beautiful, and the ennobling in man, and for one, I wish to see this culture become universal.
– J. Sterling Morton

Arbor Day is a national holiday most commonly celebrated on the last Friday in April, though some states celebrate at other times to coincide with their best tree planting time. It is a celebration of the many benefits that trees offer: shade, food, fuel, building material, shelter, and of course, beauty. Arbor Day was created by J. Sterling Morton, a pioneer who settled in the Nebraska Territory with his wife in 1854. They were described as “lovers of nature” as they surrounded their home with many tree, shrub, and flower plantings. Morton was a journalist and editor at the local newspaper.  He used this venue to share agricultural information and his enthusiasm for trees with his fellow pioneers. Morton encouraged individuals and civic organizations to plant trees to prevent soil erosion and provide shade, fuel, and lumber. He knew that planting trees would not only improve the landscape, but also the quality of life for Nebraskan pioneers. In January of 1872, Morton first proposed a tree planting holiday, which he called Arbor Day, at a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture. An estimated one million trees were planted on the first Arbor Day, with prizes awarded to the counties and individuals for planting the largest number.

In 1885, Nebraska City celebrated Arbor Day as a legal holiday for the first time with tree planting, a grand parade, and a speech by J. Sterling Morton. Each school grade planted a tree and was responsible for caring for it. It was a huge success. Other states began celebrating Arbor Day and the tradition came to schools nationwide.

Visit the Arbor Day Foundation website to learn how J. Sterling Morton’s passion for tree planting continues to be carried on across the world today.

How to Plant a Tree in Missoula: 

  1. Select a Planting Site
    Call 811 before you dig to have all buried utility lines located and marked on your property. Choose a location where growing tree roots won’t interfere. Go to montana811 for more information.
    -Take note of environmental features such as soil conditions, water availability, how many hours of sun exposure and at what time of day, presence of nearby sidewalks and other concrete paving that might be upheaved by roots, and overhead utility wires.
    -Planting a tree in the boulevard in Missoula City requires a permit and you must choose a tree from the approved list found at https://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/234/Plant-a-Tree.
  2. Choose a Tree
    -Look for hardiness zones 1-5. The lower the number, the hardier the tree. Zone 5 trees, such as Japanese Maples, should be planted in a protected area next to a house or other structure. All of the trees sold at our nursery are suitable for overwintering in Missoula when planted in a proper location.
    -Look for a plant that has the correct light requirements for your chosen location. Full sun means at least 6 hours, while partial sun or shade means 3-6 hours a day.
    -Make sure you can provide for watering needs.
    -Note full height and width at maturity. Make sure there’s enough space.
  3. Plant Your Tree
    -Keep roots cool and moist. Try to plant on a cloudy, rainy day or in the evening once the heat of the day has passed.
    -Dig a hole 2-3 times as wide as the root ball.
    -If the root ball is tightly bound, score with a knife and gently loosen the roots to stimulate new growth.
    -Place the tree in the center of the hole. Be sure not to plant it too deep or shallow.
    -Mix compost in with the native soil as you refill the hole around the root ball. This is important because Missoula valley is very sandy and rocky. Lightly pack the soil in as you go, but don’t tamp it down too tight. Set those rocks aside for another project.
    -Some smaller trees will need to be staked in order to stay straight until they take root.
    -If deer are a problem in your neighborhood, you might also want to protect the tree with a fence until it grows too tall for the deer to reach.
    -Prune to remove any dead or damaged branches.
    -Give the tree a big drink of water. We recommend leaving the hose running at the base of the tree within the drip line for about an hour. Frequent, shallow watering will produce shallow roots, but watering deeply once a week (or more, depending on the weather, type of tree, and location) will send roots deeper into the ground. Alternatively, use a self-watering bag. If you fill the bag whenever it’s empty, your tree will never be thirsty. Even plants labeled as “drought tolerant” need to be well watered until strong, new growth appears.
  4. Enjoy Your Tree!
    -Check on it every day to watch its progress and admire its beauty.