Planting Trees in Tallahassee for Arbor Day and Beyond

Arbor Day is both a national and state holiday. Nationally, Abor Day falls on the last Friday of April – April 29 this year. The state holiday coincides with the optimum tree planting time – meaning the third Friday in January for Florida. With proper planning and follow-up care, every day can be a good day for planting trees in Tallahassee and growing roots in North Florida.

A Short History of Arbor Day

Known for his enthusiasm of trees, former newspaper editor J. Sterling Morton spread his message of valuing trees as secretary of the Nebraska Territory. In 1972 he proposed a holiday he called “Arbor Day” be established by the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture. According to, “The celebration date was set for April 10, 1872. Prizes were offered to counties and individuals for the largest number of properly planted trees on that day. It was estimated that more than 1 million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day.”

Considering the Nebraska Territory was known for unending plains and dust, establishing the trees was a practical solution to providing windbreaks and helping to reduce soil erosion. Today, all 50 states celebrate Arbor Day as well as numerous countries around the world including Australia. Iceland and New Zealand.

Abor Day in Tallahassee

Late January in North Florida is considered an optimal time for tree planting due to cooler temperatures with slightly above-average rainfall. This combination means the trees are less likely to suffer from heat stress and drought, enabling root growth rather than leaf or flower production. Most Tallahassee Arbor Day celebrations are on or around the third Friday in January, so mark your calendar for 2023. Until then, it’s still a great idea to plant trees with the proper planning for location, soil prep and follow-up care.

Location, Location, Location

The repetitive words apply to both real estate and choosing the right spot for planting trees in Tallahassee. Just like not buying the first house you see, picking the right tree and location is better accomplished with information and planning. Do you need shade on part of your house or a low spot in the lawn that collects rainwater? Those are perfect scenarios for a tree planting solution.

I Need Shade on My House!

Determine which side of the house you are concerned with – south, east, or west? Eastern exposure gives you the morning sunlight, western exposure gives you the sunset. If you still want the heat of the sunset in fall and winter, but not in the summer, then consider a deciduous tree that drops its leaves in the fall. For a larger yard consider a maple or catalpa tree or for smaller yards crape myrtle and eastern redbuds can be your best solution.

If you want year-round shade, investigate the different evergreens that grow well in the Tallahassee area. For large yards consider southern magnolia and longleaf pines or for smaller yards yaupon holly and camellias. All of them need to be planted the proper distance from the house to allow for full-size tree diameter and height. The University of Florida has put together an easy-to-use guide for North Florida trees available by clicking here.

TIP: If you want flowering trees, native trees or a tree that will tolerate that low spot in your lawn, the guide mentioned above provides that information as well.

Tree Planting is Different

Once you have located the best spot for your new tree, dig the hole 1.5 to 2 times wider than the root ball. Going a little wider loosens the soil and allows for faster root growth, especially important in higher wind locations. To measure the depth of the hole, locate the topmost root to the bottom of the root ball.  Note that the topmost root will need to be above the soil level once planted.

Move the tree (always maneuver the tree using the pot, not the trunk) to the edge of the hole, removing inorganic material such as plastic from around the root ball. Examine the topmost roots, even if it requires brushing away a layer of dirt. If any of the top roots are kinked or circling the trunk or container, cut them off at the base of the trunk. Otherwise, these roots run the risk of “girdling,” wrapping around the growing trunk and eventually killing the tree. Use the remaining top roots as your guide for the depth of planting.

After the tree is in the hole, make sure the trunk is standing as upright as possible. Use a level if needed. Backfill with previous dirt and any soil left from the nursery pot and from the soil. When the hole is half full of soil, water the area to remove air and hydrate the roots. Finish filling the hole to ground level with the top roots exposed, allowing them to breathe. Double-check the tree is not leaning. Finish watering the area thoroughly.

Your final act of planting is mulching with plant-based materials. Use enough mulch for a 2- to 3-inch coverage around the tree, leaving the top of the root ball bare. The mulch keeps evaporation down, providing much-needed moisture to new roots growing out from the tree.

Water is Life for a Tree

  • Weeks 1- 2: Water the root ball daily.
  • Weeks 3-8: Water every other day.
  • Weeks 9-12: Water once a week
  • Water less often in winter or if you have poorly draining soils.

Regular watering assures your tree has the hydration it needs to keep roots, leaves and new growth going. Even in the colder months, water matters. During hibernation, trees focus on root growth to help support trunk growth and foliage in the coming spring and summer.

Feeding and Trimming Matter

For most trees, wait six months to apply a light feeding of slow-release fertilizer. Anything more and you run the risk of damaging new root growth. Lightly spread or broadcast the fertilizer under the drip line of the tree canopy, keeping away from the trunk. Once established, most trees are fine on their own, with the exception of citrus and palms. Talk to your local nursery or arborist for specifics.

Pruning does not occur the first year your tree is in your yard. In the following years, follow specific pruning instructions for the specific tree species. Common practices include cutting close to the trunk at an upward angle and avoiding the use of tree wound paints after trimming.

At Miller’s Tree Service we think every day is tree day. Helping to plant and trim healthy trees is always a pleasure. As arborists, we also assess trees that are at the end of their life cycle or pose a danger to structures. We are grateful for the opportunity to provide full-service tree care and landscape services around the Big Bend.

As Arbor Day is a holiday for planting trees for the future, so are we and our families firmly rooted in the Tallahassee and area communities.