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University School celebrates Arbor Day with new red maple tree

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Mar 6, 2020 at 6:28 PM

East Tennessee State University Arborist Travis Watson has worked to keep the university’s canopy strong for more than 15 years.

On Friday morning, Watson helped plant an Autumn Blaze red maple tree on the front lawn of University School in celebration of Arbor Day. It’s among the hundreds of trees he’s planted on campus.

He said he’s proud to help give life to the trees ETSU and University School students will walk under for generations to come.

“That’s the ultimate reward in being an arborist,” he said. “I get to drive through campus (and see them) for a long time. My daughter will go here, and she will get to see and live under the trees I planted.

“That’s the appreciation I get for my work — to see it long term,” he continued. “What we do is something we leave for the next generation.”

Arbor Day is officially celebrated in Tennessee on the first Friday in March and was designated in 1872 to foster an appreciation for the conservation of the state’s wildlife and trees.

Because the day falls a couple of weeks ahead of the spring equinox, it is the perfect time to plant new trees in Tennessee, according to ETSU Director of Sustainability Kathleen Moore.

Moore said planting a new tree in the school’s front lawn was a perfect way to commemorate Arbor Day.

“We thought about who would benefit from this tree being planted, and it’s this next generation, so we thought, ‘Let’s do it at University School.’ The kids can come back here, see the tree they planted and hopefully, it will get them thinking about the benefits of trees and (the need) to plant more trees,” she said.

Moore said events like this are part of an ongoing effort to maintain the university’s wildlife.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time. We have a lot of old trees on campus, and when they have to be taken out for any reason or they fall over and die, we try to at least plant one in their place, if not two,” she said.

After Watson placed the tree in the lawn, fourth-grader Lennox Banner and second-grader Pierce Adler read a proclamation commemorating Arbor Day at ETSU. They urged people to plant more trees and preserve Johnson City’s wildlife for years to come.

If you plan to plant trees this spring, here are some tips from the Department of Agriculture: 

• Dig a hole about twice the size of the tree's root ball, or about one foot wider than the root system. The hole should be slightly shallower than the root ball. If the soil is especially heavy or wet, consider planting the tree slightly higher.

• Remove all materials from the root mass. This includes wires, string, burlap and biodegradable containers, which could hinder proper root growth. Gently place the tree in the center of the hole and position it to grow straight. Keep the tree’s “prettier side” in mind.

• If planting a bare root tree, carefully spread the roots. Crumble the soil removed from the hole and cover the roots with it. As you add soil to fill in around the tree, lightly tamp the soil to collapse air pockets, or add water to help settle the soil. 

• Add about four inches of mulch — wood chips, shredded bark or grass clippings — around the base of the tree, extending out to the tips of the outermost branches. This will retain moisture, reduce weeds and maintain an even soil temperature. Pull the mulch away from the tree trunk to avoid rot. 

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