It has been more than a hundred years since J. Sterling Morton founded Arbor Day. His simple idea of setting aside a special day for planting trees is more important than ever. Even though Arbor Day is no longer a state holiday, it still signifies an important responsibility that each of us have to make our world a better place to live.
Arbor Day was officially proclaimed a holiday in Nebraska in 1874, and April 22 was selected as the date for its permanent observance. In general, Arbor Day celebrations in Utah are observed on the last Friday in April. Other states may vary that time to coincide with their best tree-planting weather. Martin himself said, "The cultivation of flowers and trees is the cultivation of the good, the beautiful and the ennobling in man. For one, I wish to see this culture become universal."When planting trees on Arbor Day, select those that do well in our area. Trees in the landscape are one of the most important features of the planting. They provide shade, protection from the wind, erosion control, wildlife habitat and beauty.
When selecting trees, consider the mature size and shape. Don't locate young trees in areas where they will outgrow available space. Smaller yards are the trend, so select smaller trees. Even small trees will have a spread of 15 feet. Plant the trees at least 20 feet from the nearest structure. Trees planted too close to sidewalks, homes, fences, or underneath wires will eventually suffer extensive damage due to pruning. They will have a short lifespan, and removal will be necessary within a short period of time.
Keep in mind there is no such thing as perfect trees. All trees suffer pest problems and other drawbacks, but problems can be minimized by selecting the right species in the first place. Trees can be selected for areas with problem soils and for areas with severe climate restrictions. Avoid trees that are weak-wooded, that produce abundant sprouts and surface roots and that reseed freely.
I have long been an advocate of selecting trees on the basis of their form. All trees will grow to a natural shape. If you select trees based on the natural form you will have fewer problems.
In addition to selecting smaller trees for today's landscapes, the trend is toward trees that have beauty for more than one season. Some of the smaller flowering trees fit these needs. Listed below are some that grow well in our area. Choose improved selections as they have fewer problems with pests and growth structure.
-Hawthorn: Pink or white flowers in May. Selections include Paul's Scarlet, Lavelle, Toba and Washington. Washington and Lavelle have red color in the fall. Mature heights are 15-25 feet with a 15- to 20-foot spread.
-Goldenrain tree: Yellow flowers in June, yellow fall color. Height to 30 feet and 30-foot spread.
-Goldenchain tree: Yellow flowers in May. Twenty feet high and 10-foot spread.
-Crabapple: There are dozens of crabapple trees on the market. They have forms that range from upright to weeping. Typically they have white or pink flowers and are about 20 feet high to 20 feet wide. Select crabapple trees carefully. Choose those with no fruit or persistent fruit. Select varieties resistant to mildew and fire blight. Some have fall color. Good choices include Spring Snow, Sargentii, Red Jewel, Don Wyman.
-Flowering plums, almonds, peaches and cherries: Many nursery selections are available with pink, white or red flowers in April. Heights are 20-25 feet with a 15- to 20-foot spread. All require careful pruning and training to prevent overgrowth and breakage. All are susceptible to peach tree borer.
-Flowering pear: Beautiful white blossoms in April on upright trees. Excellent fall color. To 30 feet in height and 25-foot spread. Narrow upright to broad spreading forms available. Improved selections include Aristocrat, Capitol, Redspire and Chanticleer.
-Redbud: Beautiful dark pink flowers in April, 20 feet high with 25-foot spread. No fall color. Prone to open center for best effect.
A few dollars more spent on a healthy tree that fits the site is money well spent. It will save a great deal of time, effort and expense on future tree maintenance. Join me this Friday in doing our part to make our world a better place by planting trees for Arbor Day.
If you would like more information on selecting trees, an excellent book has been prepared by Utah State University Extension Service titled, "Utah Ornamental Shade Trees for Utah." It is available at all Extension Service offices throughout the state, as well as most libraries.