Citizens who have the patience to watch a tree grow large enough to provide shade or produce beautiful blooms will have the opportunity to get a free seedling this Saturday.
The third annual tree giveaway will be held at the Guaranda Gardens Pavillion in Metro-Kiwanis Park, 817 Guaranda Drive, from 9 a.m. to noon.
Members of the Johnson City Tree Board and the Northeast Tennessee Master Gardener Association, as well as students from East Tennessee State University, will distribute the seedlings of six different types of trees on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“Because of the species and size, these are trees you wouldn’t find at garden centers,” said City Forester Pat Walding.
Seedling recipients may choose from three medium shade trees — Lacebark Elm, River Birch and Bald Cypress. There will also be three ornamental options — Serviceberry, Carolina Silverbell and Amur Maple.
The unique seedling freebies are the result of Walding’s trying to avoid large trees like oaks and poplars that most homes don’t have room for, he said.
Information about how to plant the trees and their expected growth will be provided at the giveaway. Both the River Birch and Bald Cypress will need to live in moist soils, Walding said. The Carolina Silverbell is a heavy flowering tree that produces a beautiful white bloom and the small, seedy fruits on the Serviceberry are actually edible. The only non-native tree, the Amur Maple, will turn to a crisp red each autumn.
The tiny trees won’t have to be planted right away, as long as they stay cool and moist, Walding said. Planters should also consider spacing their seedling at an appropriate distance from their home and placing it on the southwest side of their property in order to take advantage of the shade once it matures.
For those who are unsure where to put their new tree, Walding reccommends planting it in a 1-foot diameter pot with top soil. Several months later it can be transplanted, but gardeners must remember to water it regularly.
“If you don’t know where to put it, grow it for a while and then decide,” Walding said.
Each person will be given at least one of the 2,800 free seedlings and if there are leftovers, recipients may return to the event around noon to pick up more tiny trees, Walding said.
The giveaway event is a localized Arbor Day celebration and is part of a campaign to plant 10,000 trees in Johnson City. After this year’s giveaway, the city will have completed about 75 percent of its initial plan.
“It’s a lofty goal, since there are 20,000 households in Johnson City,” Walding said.
Since the event is in its third year, Walding is beginning to spot mature trees around town that were once free seedlings handed out to citizens.
“I saw a man taking pictures of the blooms on some ornamental cherry trees that were planted several years ago,” he said. “It’s a feel-good moment when people appreciate what you do.”