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Grandfather planting a tree with grandson

Arbor Day is a national holiday focused on planting and appreciating trees. It’s an American tradition dating back more than 150 years.

Former U. S. Secretary of Agriculture and Nebraska Governor Julius Sterling Morton found the Nebraskan territory virtually treeless when he first arrived. Knowing that trees are crucial to the development of a state for fuel, building materials, and agriculture, he decided to advocate for a holiday devoted to planting trees. He made his first appeal to the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture on January 4, 1872.

Arbor Day History

The nation’s first Arbor Day was observed on April 10, 1872. It was a great success with an estimated 1 million trees planted. Nebraska’s governor first proclaimed the holiday in 1874. It was legally named a state holiday in 1885, with April 22 set as the official day of observance. More than 1,000 Nebraskan children took part in tree plantings on Arbor Day in 1885. The event has since inspired a yearly tree-planting tradition among school children nationwide.

It took roughly 20 years for Arbor Day to spread across the nation — and it has since spread across the globe. In 1970, Richard Nixon first declared Arbor Day a national holiday. It is observed on the last Friday in April. Arbor Day is about planting trees, so many states have set their own state-specific Arbor Day to coincide with the best time of year to plant trees for their state.

Arbor Day in Alabama

The first Arbor Day Proclamation in Alabama was signed by Governor Thomas Seay in 1887 and this proclamation tradition continued for nearly 90 years. In 1975, the Alabama State Legislature passed an act that set the last entire week in February as Arbor Week.

Although it is a bit late for Alabama residents to plant trees on National Arbor Day, it is a great time to stop and appreciate our leafy friends.

Ways to Celebrate

There are many ways to get out and appreciate trees, but here are a few ideas:

  • Commit to learning about unfamiliar trees. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System has many articles on trees.
  • Join a local tree-focused volunteer group or form your own. Volunteer groups can plant trees, fund tree plantings, focus on tree preservation, trade and swap plants, or conduct other tree-focused activities.
  • Organize and make plans for a future neighborhood or community tree planting. This is an excellent time of year to start preparing sites for fall plantings. Fall is the ideal time to plant trees in Alabama.
  • Mulch some trees. A good bed of mulch is one of the best things you can do for a tree, but don’t “volcano mulch” your trees.
  • Visit or volunteer at your local parks or arboretums.

Most holidays are a celebration or remembrance of the past, but Arbor Day is a little different. It urges us to remember and celebrate the future. If you can’t plant a tree on Arbor Day, try to go outside to appreciate the beauty and many benefits that trees provide.