Rick BissonSlowly warming temperatures, longer days, birds singing in the early morning, the sound of peeps filling the night air — these are all indications that winter’s grip is loosening and spring is finally here.

It’s the wonderful time of year when new life and color suddenly sprout from the ground. The trees bud and leaves begin to fill the landscape again.

This change of season also ushers in the opportunity to freshen up around the house. For some that means opening up the gardens. It’s also a terrific time to observe and celebrate Arbor Day – maybe plant a tree or two.

The idea for Arbor Day originally came from the state of Nebraska during the 1800s. J. Sterling Morton was among the pioneers moving into the then treeless Nebraska Territory in 1854. He and his wife were lovers of nature, and the home they established in Nebraska was quickly planted with trees, shrubs and flowers.

Morton was a journalist and soon became the editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper. Given that forum, he spread agricultural information and his enthusiasm for trees to an equally enthusiastic audience. His fellow pioneers missed their trees.

More importantly, Nebraska needed trees for windbreaks to keep soil from blowing away, for fuel and building materials, as well as shade from the hot sun.

On Jan. 4, 1872, Morton first proposed a tree-planting holiday to be called “Arbor Day.” The date was set for April 10, 1872. Prizes were offered to counties and individuals for planting the largest number of trees on that day. It is estimated that more than 1 million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day.

Arbor Day was named a legal holiday in Nebraska in April 1874. Arbor Day is now observed annually in every state across the nation and in many foreign countries. Maine soon joined its fellow states’ celebration of Arbor Day.

Maine shifted its observation of Arbor Day from April to May in 1978 when snow and frozen ground challenged the tree planting efforts of a group of sixth-grade students and their teacher from Dover-Foxcroft.

Given the often unpredictable weather in late April, the group decided it was time for a change so they headed to the Maine Legislature where they proposed a bill that would establish Arbor Week in May.

The Legislature was impressed by the students’ arguments for their bill and agreed to make the change. Arbor Week in Maine continues to be celebrated during the third full week in May.

Celebrating Arbor Day and Arbor Week is easy. Towns throughout the Midcoast hold events and opportunities to recognize trees and all they do for the environment. Planting a tree may be one of the easiest and most impactful ways to commemorate the significance of trees.

When planting a tree, it’s important to match the desired characteristics of the tree to the site where the tree is intended to grow. Before selecting a tree variety consider whether the tree will provide shade, screening, flowers, fruit, or interesting bark.

Wet or dry soil conditions will also impact which type of tree is best. Trees need room to grow, some more than others, so plan for the mature size of the tree. Be sure not to plant too close to the house.

In addition to the aesthetic and environmental benefits of trees, trees increase a home’s value. Studies of comparable homes with and without trees show that a home with trees in the yard can increase the home’s value by as much as 15 percent.

If you’re thinking about planting a tree this spring, either in observance of Arbor Day or to add value to your home, talk with your local landscape expert or tree expert at the nearby nursery. They can help you pick the right tree.

If you’re unsure of when to plant the tree of your choice, remember the Chinese proverb that states: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

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