Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Plant a tree on Arbor Day

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A little before my time, 1872, to be precise, the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture proposed that the 10th day of April be set aside as a tree-planting holiday, and thereby named it Arbor Day, the first such celebration in the nation. Given that the prevailing landscape of the Great Plains at the time was a vast grassland, devoid of all but a few trees, Arbor Day was enthusiastically embraced by these early settlers, especially by those whose who'd run out of their Neutrogena Sunscreen SPF 35, I presume. Most, however, may have been motivated by the $25 award to be given to the person who planted the most trees. I don't know who won the award, but he or she had plenty of competition as more than one million trees were planted that day.

The last Friday of April is officially designated as National Arbor Day, though many states choose to observe Arbor Day on dates more in tune with their tree-planting season. For example, in Vermont and Maine, the day is celebrated in early May. In Massachusetts, the legislature, in 1886, officially established the last Friday of April as Arbor Day. As such, on April 28, many towns and organizations have organized tree plantings and related activities in observance of Arbor Day.

Those early Nebraskan settlers viewed tree planting as a necessity, that is, for fuel, as a building material, as a wind break, and for shade. Though New England is enriched with natural forests, there remains a need for trees and tree planting, particularly in our urban and home landscapes. Besides the aesthetic benefits, trees moderate temperatures around our homes and other buildings during winter and summer, provide wind breaks and visual screens, reduce noise pollution, and cleanse the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and catching dust particles.

Though I suspect no one will be competing for $25, I'd hope that many will plant a tree to enhance their property, to celebrate an anniversary or other event, to honor a deceased relative, or just donate a tree to your town or school. If that is not appealing, then seek out the nearest tree and give it a hug.

'HONEY-DO' GARDEN LIST

Wrap your arms around this list of gardening tasks:

- Check the asparagus bed daily for emerging spears. Harvest the spears when they are 7 to 10 inches tall by cutting or snapping them off at ground level. Asparagus in mature beds — those 4 years or older — may be harvested over an 8-week period.

- When tilling the soil, apply a nitrogen fertilizer to areas of the vegetable garden where remnants of last years' straw mulch or shredded leaves remain. The nitrogen is needed by microbes in the soil as they break down this dry organic matter. Otherwise, the microbes will use existing soil nitrogen that is intended for growth of your crops. Where green cover crops such as winter rye were gown, the additional nitrogen is not needed.

- Set out transplants of hardy vegetables including lettuce, leeks, onions and cabbage family crops. Placing hot caps or row covers over the plantings will accelerate the establishment of the transplants and hasten their development.

- Take advantage of the cool, moist weather to dig, divide and transplant late-summer and fall blooming herbaceous perennials. One plant that will likely need frequent dividing is chrysanthemum. Dig and divide garden mums when shoots are about 4 inches high. Mums should be divided every 2 or 3 years. After digging the plants, discard the old center of each plant, separate the small offshoots and replant each about 18 to 24 inches apart in groups of 3 or 5.

- Watch for Eastern tent caterpillars on apple, crabapple, cherry, plum and peach trees. The caterpillars are now hatching and will feed on the developing buds of these trees. Organic insecticides, such as those containing Bacillus thuringiensis var kurstaki or spinosad, are most effective if applied while the caterpillars are still small.

- Spray repellents onto evergreen shrubs and emerging herbaceous perennials to dissuade deer, rabbits, and voles from browsing on them. Such browsing activity has been very common of late.

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