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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.

Earth Day and Sustainable Gardening

A brief history:
April 22nd marks the anniversary of the modern environmental movement that began in 1970. Earth Day was founded by Gaylord Nelson, then U.S. senator from Wisconsin. Both troubled by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, CA and inspired by the student anti-war movement of the time, he wanted to start a national political conversation about environmental protection. On that first Earth Day in 1970, 20 million Americans rallied for a healthy and sustainable environment. Groups fighting for separate causes such as pesticide use, loss of wilderness, oil spills, and threats to wildlife unified under the banner of environmental protection. Political leaders across party lines worked together to address these common problems that harm us all. This year of action lead to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. In 1990, the movement went global with a focus on recycling. Today, the Earth Day Network is no longer a single day of action, but an ongoing campaign in areas such as renewable energy, climate change, deforestation, intersections with poverty, and student engagement and education.

Earth Day 2018, Ending Plastic Pollution:
The campaign for Earth Day 2018 is to end plastic pollution and is dedicated to "fundamentally change human attitude and behavior about plastics." Why is plastic pollution bad? Plastics are poisoning and injuring marine life, disrupting human hormones, littering our beaches and landscapes, and clogging our waste streams and landfills. Plastics do not biodegrade, but instead break down into smaller and smaller pieces that enter the food chain and end up in the seafood that we eat. In short, plastic waste is threatening the survival of our planet.

Reduce, Reuse 
Here are Marchie's Nursery, we are always looking for new clever ways to repurpose materials in an effort to reduce our waste and conserve resources. A few examples: the plastic mesh bags that our seed potatoes come in are used for wrapping trees to protect them for transport, shoe boxes and cardboard trays are sourced from local business for our customers to take their plants safely home in, our notepads for taking down phone messages and other communications are made from the blank sides of outdated inventory sheets, and we accept used plastic pots for reuse at the nursery.

Suggestions for reducing plastic use in the home garden:

  • Buy in bulk when possible
  • Reuse plastic soil/mulch/fertilizer bags to throw out yard waste or trash
  • Use wooden popsicle sticks or cut tags from milk jugs to mark plantings
  • Use hemp twine instead of plastic ties
  • Grow from seed and trade with friends
  • Return plastic pots to nurseries for reuse (many of our customers do this already!)



Spring Cleaning Your Landscape

There’s a lot that can be done in your yard this time of year. Now is a great opportunity to take advantage of the cool temperatures, occasional sunshine, and yes, even the rain! Once you’ve walked around your property to take in the signs of renewed life and dream about this year’s projects, you can start getting things ready for the summer. Spring cleaning your landscape can include activities such as pruning, removing debris, pulling weeds, dividing perennials, testing the soil, applying compost and fertilizers, and seeding the lawn.

Now is the time to prune your fruit trees if you didn't during the winter and if the buds haven’t opened yet. Pruning after buds break will stress the trees. For all trees and shrubs, pruning out any winter-killed branches is an easy place to start. Wait for spring bloomers such as lilacs and forsythia until after they have bloomed. Only prune up to 1/3 of living branches in a season to avoid stressing woody perennials.

Cut back last year’s growth from non-woody perennials once you see new growth at the base of the plants. You want to get to them before their new growth gets too tall to easily do this. Ornamental grasses can be cut back within a few inches from ground whether you see new growth yet or not.

Remove debris from garden beds such as winter mulch, leaves, sticks, and last year’s annuals. Add this to your compost pile and set aside any extra materials for layering between your kitchen scraps throughout the summer.

Get a leg-up on early blooming weeds such as dandelions by pulling them now while the foliage is visible and the soil is wet. A long, narrow spade gives good leverage on deep tap roots.

Digging up and dividing perennials that you want to relocate is easily done in the spring because there is little top growth to be careful of and the weather is on your side. Roots are less likely to dry out when transplanting during cool, wet weather. This will reduce plant stress. We still recommend applying a water-soluble root stimulator when transplanting.

If growth seemed a little off last year, you might consider conducting an at-home soil test to determine what amendments could be needed. Soil tests can reveal PH imbalances and deficiencies in the major nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK).

Many plants like a good feeding to fuel their spring growth spurt. Spread 1-2 inches of compost in garden beds to replenish both the lost nutrients and the organic matter vital for soil health and root growth. Be careful of using hot manures like chicken which can burn plants with its high ammonia content. You can also apply a slow-release organic fertilizer.

Grass seed takes daily watering to establish, so it’s smart to take advantage of the spring rains and get some help with the task. You can begin sowing grass seed once the forsythia starts blooming. Before seeding, prepare the area by pulling weeds and aerating to loosen compacted soil. Do not apply herbicides for weed control to areas you plan to seed because this will harm the grass seeds and sprouts as well. Fertilize while seeding and also feed already established lawn areas.

Growing Potatoes and Onions

If you’re anything like us, then you’re eager to get a start on your vegetable garden now that milder springtime weather is setting in. Although it’s too early to plant hot summer crops like corn and tomatoes, you’ll be glad to know that there are two crops that you can begin planting now: potatoes and onions.


      The potato is a member of the Solanaceae family, also known as the nightshades. This means that potatoes are related to tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, petunias and tobacco. According to Wikipedia, the potato was first domesticated in the region of modern-day southern Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia approximately 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. If you travel to South America today, you will encounter potatoes of many shapes and colors like you have never seen before.

In our area, potatoes can be planted as early as late March and as late as June. Plant early for summer eating and later for fall storage. Although you can plant them so early, potatoes may not germinate until the soil has warmed. Don’t worry if they take a while to sprout.

When deciding where to plant potatoes or any other root crops that you plan to store over the winter, consider choosing a spot that will not be near other vegetables that will need heavy watering in the fall. This will allow your root veggies to dry out and store properly. Potatoes grow best in light, sandy, and well-drained soil. If you plant them in heavy soil, or soil that stays wet, you will have bad results. Tuber growth may be stunted, deformed, or even rot. Potatoes want full sun in order to produce their largest yield.

To prepare your garden soil, add mulch for drainage and apply an organic vegetable fertilizer. Compost is great, but you might also want to use a packaged product throughout the season. Do not use fresh manure because this can introduce maggots to the soil and they will eat your potatoes. If the soil is compacted, you might want to gently loosen it up to 12 inches deep with a pitchfork or hand tiller. Heavy tilling can damage the mycorrhizal fungi that will help plants roots take up water and nutrients.

Once the area is ready, you are ready to prepare your seed potatoes for planting. You will want to cut large potatoes into pieces so that each one has 2-3 eyes, or sprouts. Let the pieces sit in a cool, dry area for 12-24 hours, or until the cuts scab over. This will help prevent them from rotting in the ground. Plant the potatoes 3 inches deep, 12 inches apart, in rows that are 2-3 feet apart. Cover the potato pieces with soil and give them a good, thorough watering.

Now that you have them in the ground, don’t water the potatoes again until the plants are at least 5 inches tall. Many potato farmers don’t water until the foliage starts to wilt. This means that you may not be watering again until mid-June or even July, depending on the weather. Once you do start watering, maintain a regular watering schedule throughout the rest of the growing season. Irregular watering causes the plants to start and stop growing, which can result in funny shaped and sized tubers. Periods of drought can cause the tubers to turn black on the inside. If this happens, it's a sign of physical stress and not disease. In addition to water, potatoes require a good bit of fertilizer which we recommend applying until mid-August.

Potatoes form tubers along the stems between the roots and leaves. A good way to increase yield is to cover the stems with soil as the plant grows. The larger the mound of soil you build around each plant, the more potatoes you will harvest. Be careful not to cover the entire plant, however. Leave a good bit of foliage exposed for photosynthesis.

How do you know when the potatoes are ready for harvest if you can’t see them? A good indication that your potatoes are ready is that tiny white-to-purple star-shaped blossoms have begun appearing on your plants. If it’s not too much trouble, it’s ideal to carefully harvest the larger potatoes and leave the smaller ones to continue growing. However, if you damage the root system, then growth of what remains will be stunted. You can also just dig them all up at once and have potatoes of different sizes. For winter storage, wait 2-3 weeks after the plants have died down before harvesting the potatoes. This will allow enough time for the skin to thicken. Don’t forget about them and let them freeze in the ground, however. They will not store well after that. Once you get them out of the ground, let them dry for a couple days out of direct sunlight. Finally, choose only firm, healthy looking potatoes to be stored in total darkness in a temperature ranging from 40-50 degrees F.


      Onions are members of the Allium family which also includes garlic, shallots, leeks, and chives. The ancient Egyptians revered the onion as a symbol of eternal life because of its structure of concentric circles. Onions were often depicted in tomb paintings and have been found carefully placed inside mummies. In fact, King Ramses the IV was laid to rest with onions in his eye sockets. (Learn more about the history of onions at https://www.onions-usa.org).

Onions are commonly grown from sets or starts. Sets are dried bulbs about the size of a marble and starts are bundled young plants with about 5-6 inches of green foliage growing from tiny bulbs. In talking to our customers, we’ve learned that people often have tried both and find that they prefer one over the other. Red, white, and yellow varieties are available. Usually yellow varieties store the best.

Whether you choose sets or starts, the process is the same. Onions can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in early spring. Like the potatoes, choose a sunny location away from where you’ll be watering heavily at the end of the season if you plan on putting your onions up for the winter. Before planting, soak onion starts in a glass of water until the roots soften. Onion sets do not need any preparation. Plant onions so that the bulbs are 1 inch deep, 3 inches apart, in rows that are spaced 1 foot apart. Onion bulbs are ready for harvest when the tops have fallen over. Pull them up and leave them to dry on top of the soil for several days before bringing them inside. Store them in a cool, dry place. If left to overwinter, onions will produce a flower and seeds the following year.

You can also grow your onions as green or salad onions. In this case, plant your starts or sets 2-4 inches deep with the bulbs nearly touching. The deeper you plant them, the more of the white portion you’ll get. You can harvest them in about 4-6 weeks after planting once the greens are about 10 inches tall. Replant throughout the spring every 2 weeks in order to have a constant supply for salads and garnishing. Green onions will last longer if you store them in a glass of water in the refrigerator.

Here’s to braving the unpredictable spring weather and getting your hands dirty!