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Harnett County,
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How did Arbor Day become a US holiday?


Question How did Arbor Day become a US holiday?

Answer As all good things do, it started as a state holiday. It is now a state holiday celebrated in every state in the US. On January 4th, 1872, J. Sterling Morton first proposed a tree planting holiday to be called ďArbor Day.Ē This proposal was made at a State Board of Agriculture meeting in Nebraska. Mr. Morton said, "Other holidays repose upon the past. Arbor Day proposes for the future."

Morton was originally from Detroit, Michigan. He was also a journalist and editor of Nebraska's first newspaper. He used that form of media to spread agricultural information and his enthusiasm for trees. Morton not only advocated tree planting by individuals, he also encouraged civic organizations to join in.

The first Arbor Day was officially proclaimed by the stateís Governor on March 12th, 1874. Prizes were offered to counties and individuals for properly planting the largest number of trees on that day. While everybody was encouraged to plant trees, schools were the primary focus of this horticultural activity. More than 1 million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day.

At the time, Nebraska had few trees. The wind whipped across the open plains. Trees were needed as windbreaks to keep soil in place, for fuel and building materials, and for shade from the hot sun.

During the 1870s, other states passed legislation to observe Arbor Day. The tradition began in schools nationwide in 1882. Today, the most common date for state observances is the last Friday in April. In Nebraska, April 22nd (Mortonís birthday) was chosen for the permanent observance of Arbor Day. In North Carolina, Arbor Day is observed the first Friday after March 15th. This year it will be March 21st.

Arbor Day wasnít recognized by the Federal government until President Nixon proclaimed a National Arbor Day in 1970. I guess it took the Federal government 100 years to catch on to this great idea.

For more Arbor Day info, visit If you do not have internet access, please call the Extension Office at 893-7533 or email me at

While the wind is not whipping across North Carolina, the sun is beaming down all summer long. The rapid development of new schools has surely left them in need of trees. Donít let the drought poo poo our Arbor Day, at least begin planning to plant trees.

Gary (aspiring to be a Morton) Pierce

Horticulture Extension Agent

Harnett County

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