It's true that Arbor Day in Ohio isn't until April, but if you plan to celebrate by planting trees, now is the time to make decisions and let your favorite local garden center know what you want.
You could also place an order with the Arbor Day Foundation. The Foundation, founded in 1972, is offering 10 free flowering trees during the month of January to Ohio residents. The trees will be shipped in time for planting this spring. To get the free trees, we just have to join the Foundation, which costs a meager $10. This isn't a bad deal.
I've purchased Arbor Day trees in the past, although it's been a while. This year's trees are two of each white flowering dogwoods, flowering crabapples, Washington hawthornes, American redbuds and Golden Raintrees. The trees are part of the foundation's Trees for America campaign.
Although the Arbor Day Foundation was founded nearly 40 years ago, Arbor Day itself has been celebrated for 140 years. The official Arbor Day was founded in Nebraska by journalist and politician Julius Sterling Morton. Morton always worked to improve the landscape and increase awareness of the importance of trees by systematically planting on his Nebraska property. Morton was able to bring his dream to the national level when he was appointed by President Grover Cleveland's secretary of agriculture. Because of Morton's vision, the first Arbor Day was observed in Nebraska on April 10, 1872. More than 1 million trees were planted that day. In 1884, Arbor Day was made an annual legal holiday in the state and was celebrated on Morton's birthday, April 22.
Shortly after Arbor Day became a Nebraska holiday, other states began picking up on the idea. Now all 50 states and the District of Columbia have an official Arbor Day, although they are not all observed on the same day, and many aren't even in April. In Ohio, Arbor Day is the last Friday in April.
Every year we try to plant a few small flowering trees somewhere on the property to bloom throughout spring and summer and attract birds and butterflies. Just last summer I discovered a crabapple at the back of our property that I didn't remember planting. Birds especially love the fruit after it has frozen and thawed a few times to make it easier for them to eat.
Eastern redbud is more commonly seen south of us, particularly when traveling along highways in early spring. One of the first to bloom, the flowers are pale lavender and shine in the sunlight.
Crabapples are more common, probably because they are often used as street trees. The complaint most people have is that they can tend to be messy when the small apples drop from the branches in fall. My advice is to not plant them along a sidewalk or where people are prone to sit. Otherwise, I love these trees and wish I had more in my yard.
Washington hawthorne is a late spring blooming plant. This tree is great for filling in the gap between early spring bloomers and summer flowers. The flowers give way to red berries that the birds love, particularly cedar waxwings. The branches of this tree has thorns and the fall foliage is orange and red, making it a multi-season attraction.
Golden Raintree blooms clusters of bright yellow flowers in fall. After blooming, the flowers yield to two-inch purple seed pods. In warmer climates, this tree can be invasive, but we don't have to worry about that here as cold weather kills the pods before they have a chance to form seeds.
All of these trees would make an excellent addition to any landscape. To become a member of the Foundation and receive free trees, send a $10 contribution to: Ten Free Flowering Trees, Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, NE 68410. The deadline is Jan. 31. Ohio residents also can join online at arborday.org/january.