What exactly is Arbor Day you ask?

What exactly is Arbor Day you ask? A nature-loving newspaper editor named J. Sterling Morton started Arbor Day in Nebraska 145-years ago to recognize the numerous valuable resources trees provide us. The first Arbor Day was a huge success and the idea quickly spread nationwide - particularly the idea of children planting trees on school grounds and taking care of them throughout the year. Currently, Arbor Day is celebrated around the world and on every continent but Antarctica. Trees have symbolic value within many cultures and religions around the world, so it is understandable that people around the world enjoy celebrating a “day” focused on trees.

Although national Arbor Day is celebrated the last Friday of April each year, Florida is unique in that it celebrates it on the third Friday of January. Florida’s geographical southern location with mild winters and a longer growing season make it a great time of the year to plant trees. With the longer growing season, the roots are able to establish themselves in the cooler temperatures without the high demands of the spring and summer temperatures. In addition to their beauty and shade in the hot Florida summers, trees provide us with such things as wood and paper products, nuts and fruits, wildlife habitats, stormwater uptake, soil stabilization, carbon dioxide intake and oxygen production.

This year the local Florida Forest Service and Gulf County 4-H collaborated to celebrate Arbor Day at Wewahitchka and Port St. Joe Elementary Schools on Jan. 26-27. The second and third graders at each school gathered to learn about Arbor Day, the importance of trees and the products made from trees from our Senior Forester, Joe Vanderwerff. Then, they proceeded outside to plant five trees at each school. The students learned how to choose a proper location for the tree, dig the proper size hole, properly prepare the roots to plant the trees, and to water the trees until they are established.

The next time you are on the school campuses be sure to check out the following trees planted by over 200-second and third graders in Gulf County. Wewahitchka Elementary – Red Bud, Pignut Hickory, Red Maple, White Oak and Dogwood

Port St. Joe Elementary – Red Bud, Live Oak, Tulip Poplar, Red Maple and Dogwood

Although Florida’s official Arbor Day has passed, we still encourage you to celebrate by planting a tree. The Florida Forest Service, UF/IFAS Extension and other local municipalities and businesses are hosting tree giveaways, plantings, and ceremonies. Be sure to check your local listings for these events.

A quote to inspire you from the Arbor Day Foundation website, “He who plants a tree plants a hope.” – Lucy Larcom

Gulf County 4-H and the local Forest Service would like to thank principals, Ms. Traci Bowers and Mrs. Joni Mock, and the second and third grade teachers for their time and collaboration on this tree planting project.

For more information on local Arbor Day events, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office or Florida Forest Service.