Plant the Idea!

South Carolina Arbor Day

Forestry Leaflet 23
Posted December, 1998

The Meaning of Arbor Day
The first Arbor Day ceremonies took place over a hundred years ago on the windswept prairies of the Nebraska Territory.  Arbor Day became a tradition through the work of one man - J. Sterling Morton, editor of Nebraska's first newspaper and later U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Although Morton loved his home in Nebraska, he missed the green forests of his native New York.  He found that Nebraska's high winds blew the soil away when he plowed fields on the open prairie; so he decided to plant trees as wind-breaks.  Morton's successful tree-planting project encouraged him to promote the idea throughout Nebraska, and on April 10, 1872, Arbor Day became a state holiday.   Over a million trees were planted on that single day.

Morton's idea quickly caught on in the rest of the United States.  In 1883 the first Arbor Day school celebrations were held in Cincinnati.   Today Arbor Day is celebrated in almost every state and U.S. territory as well as numerous foreign countries.

Because ideal conditions for planting vary throughout the nation, Arbor Day is celebrated at different times of the year, depending on the climate of the state.  An Arbor Day for the State of South Carolina was created by legislation in 1934.  We celebrate on the first Friday in December because that is the time in South Carolina when plants are dormant, there is plenty of rainfall, and a tree's roots suffer less from the shock of transplanting.

  • lend beauty to the South Carolina landscape;
  • cool us with the shade from their branches and the moisture from their leaves;
  • reduce air pollution;
  • protect us from damaging winds and water;
  • provide food and homes for birds and wild animals;
  • camouflage harsh scenery and soften angular cityscapes;
  • filter noise;
  • prevent soil erosion;
  • mean about 30,000 jobs to South Carolina; and
  • provide more than 5,000 wood, paper, and chemical products.

The first Friday in December is a time not only to celebrate Arbor Day in South Carolina but also to think about the benefits planted trees can provide our homes, schools, and institutions; our cities and towns; and of course our forests.  For every single tree we plant on Arbor Day, millions more must be planted in South Carolina's forests to keep up with the country's need for wood and wood products.

Arbor Day marks the beginning of planting season in South Carolina.  It is a holiday that emphasizes the importance of all trees in our lives, whether they grow in the city or in the forest.  "Arbor Day," said J. Sterling Morton, "is not like other holidays.  Each of these reposes on the past, but Arbor Day preposes on the future."

Planting and Caring for Trees
Planting a tree on Arbor Day is taking the first step toward assuring that it will thrive.  Planting is most successful if done during December, January, or February while trees are dormant and new growth has not yet begun.  When hundreds of seedlings are planted on a forest site, either machine planters or hand crews with dibbles make the planting job faster.  Basic principles apply, however, whether you are planting one tree or one thousand trees.

Here are some basic guidelines for planting (see Newly Planted Trees - Strategies for Survival for more detailed instructions):

  • Choose young, healthy seedlings or saplings to plant - they stand a better chance of surviving.
  • Select your planting site carefully.  Keep in mind that as your tree grows, the roots and branches will spread;  so allow adequate space for future growth.
  • Dig a hole at least twice the width, but equal in depth to the size of the root system.   Use the original soil removed from the hole to refill around the root system.  Once filled, place mulch material such as pine bark, dead leaves, or some other semi-decayed material over the soil surface.
  • Newly planted trees need regular watering during the spring, summer, and fall of the first year.  Evergreens, because they retain their leaves, need to be watered regularly in the winter too.  Do not water every day.   Instead, give your tree a good soaking once a week.  Fertilizer is usually not need in the first year.

Your Arbor Day Program
Plan ahead for your Arbor Day program.  Select a spot where your tree will enhance the landscaping, and prepare the site for planting.  Invite the mayor and other community leaders interested in beautification.  You may want to read appropriate scripture or poetry.  School children can sing songs or recite compositions they have written for Arbor Day.  Invite a speaker - a Clemson Extension agent, a Forestry Commission forester, or an arborist - to explain why trees are important to South Carolina and how to care for them.

To help you with your program, the local Clemson Extension or Forestry Commission office has a suggested lesson plans, including ideas teachers may find useful in educating children in the value of trees.

The First Friday in December - South Carolina's Arbor Day!


Department of Forest Resources