This Friday is National Arbor Day.
Really, it should be a recognized holiday – no school, no postal deliveries. We could all find a tree and decorate it, yarn-bomb it, perhaps. Give it hugs, copious drinks of water and maybe a little food. But really, the day has a pretty simple premise: planting trees in public spaces.
First observed in the 1870s, the holiday was championed by Nebraskan J. Sterling Morton, who saw tremendous value in trees. Agriculturally, they hold the soil in place; as windbreaks, they provide shelter from cold winter and spring winds; and, maybe most importantly, they provide shade and beauty. By 1882, schools nationwide celebrated the day, and even today, schools throughout Southwest Colorado celebrate the day by planting trees.
And the city of Durango is no slouch either when it comes to planting trees. Recognized for more than 30 years as a “Tree City USA,” Durango boasts close to 9,000 trees in public spaces. As an urban forest, the benefit of those trees is huge: They store carbon and water, clean the air, slow down erosion and, maybe most importantly, provide a space to lay a blanket underneath.
Their flowers are bound to bring a smile. The fall colors of the maple trees along East Third Avenue remind many of us that winter is soon to arrive, but for some reason, our autumns, like the changing leaves, hang on forever and provide plenty of piles to jump into.
For those of you looking to plant a tree this spring, remember to follow the mantra of the Colorado Master Gardener Program: “Right plant, right place.” Too many times, we see large trees planted on small lots (take a walk through the Crestview neighborhood, now towering with Colorado blue spruces planted decades ago) or trees planted too close to the house (come to my house where a birch was planted about 3 feet from the foundation).
Or perhaps there’s the aspen tree that reminds us all of our high country forests, so, of course, we want to mimic that in our neighborhood landscape. Come to find out, those aspens sure do love all the water we give them, and in no time, they find their way into the lawn or the neighbor’s lawn, or they crowd out the plants in that once well-defined ornamental bed.
So really, there is no “perfect” tree – all have their pluses and minuses. It is up to us to determine if the benefits outweigh the negatives, and up to you find the best tree – or better yet, trees – that fit your landscape. A diversity of trees that have similar needs is ideal.
Know those tree’s needs – water, sunlight, exposure, soil adaptation. Conifers, for example, typically don’t like their roots constantly wet, so don’t plant them in a low spot where runoff water may pool. And while the selection palette of trees may increase with hardiness zone, don’t go thinking that Zone 6 or 7 plants may survive here. (Even if the U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Map considers most of La Plata County a Zone 6 – don’t believe it.)
If you are in the market for a new tree, visit the Colorado State University Extension fact sheets on plants: www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/pubs.html. Make a list of what interests you. See if the city of Durango’s Forestry Division has any additional ideas at http://www.durangogov.org/index.aspx?NID=560. Then, go visit a local nursery that knows what works in our area.
The extra work will pay off, I promise. Plant the tree and call it your own personal holiday. If your boss looks at you funny, have your boss call me. I’ll vouch for you – and maybe even write you a note.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.