Arbor Day

Arbor Day

Mayor David Briley celebrates Nashville's Arbor Day Mayor David Briley celebrates Nashville's Arbor Day

As Socket relaxed under a shade tree recently, he began to wonder: “Why do we celebrate trees each year on Arbor Day?” Socket did some digging and revealed the answers!


When did Arbor Day begin?

While the notion of planting trees has been around for a long time, it wasn’t until April 10, 1872, that someone organized a day of mass tree-planting in the United States. That someone was J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska City, Nebraska and he organized the planting of an estimated one million trees in a single day![i]



Why did Morton want to plant trees?

Morton, like many pioneers in the Nebraska Territory missed trees. Furthermore, Morton deeply understood that life without trees is virtually inhospitable. Upon the territory’s barren soil, trees were needed as windbreaks, for erosion control, for fuel and building materials, and for Socket’s favorite, shade from the hot sun. Morton’s enthusiasm for planting was unparalleled. He advocated for tree planting in articles and editorials and eventually had the State Board of Agriculture approve his idea for a day of tree planting called “Arbor Day.”[ii]



When did Tennessee first celebrate Arbor Day?

Morton’s idea began to spread and in 1875, Tennessee became one of the first states to adopt Arbor Day. In 1925, the Tennessee legislature set "Bird, Flower and Arbor Day" on the first Friday in April. In 1946 it was changed to the first Friday in March.[iii]


Why is Arbor Day celebrated on different dates across the country?

While usually observed in the spring, the date for Arbor Day varies, depending on climate and suitable planting season. For example, Florida observes Arbor Day on the third Friday in January while Vermont observes Arbor Day on the first Friday in May. The first Friday in March falls within the suitable planting period for Tennessee. The national date for Arbor Day this year is April 27, 2018.


What has been Arbor Day’s impact? 

One hundred years after the first Arbor Day, the Arbor Day Foundation was formed in 1972 as a nonprofit conservation and education organization. Since its inception nearly 50 years ago, the Arbor Day Foundation alone has helped plant 50 million trees in national, state, and county public forests while simultaneously distributing seven million trees to members annually. Its Rain Forest Rescue program has preserved 50,000 acres of rain forest and as of 2015 the Arbor Day Foundation had expanded its global reach to work in 16 countries and five continents.[iv]

Learn more on all things Arbor Day at and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s page about the holiday.


What is the Department of General Services doing about trees?

Recognizing that landscapes and grounds play a key role in operations, the Department of General Services created a new position in 2017. This position, Landscape and Green Infrastructure Manager, is filled by Treff Alexander, a landscape architect and certified arborist!


Want to know more about what Nashville is doing for trees? Learn more about how Nashville values and cares for its trees in a companion blog post, coming your way later this summer! If you want to track Metro and Department of General Services’ work towards healthy trees and tree canopy in real time, follow Socket on social media!

This blog was written by Mr. Jake Rachels, intern in the Department of General Services Division of Sustainability.

[i] Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Arbor Day in Tennessee. Retrieved from:

[ii] Arbor Day Foundation. The History of Arbor Day. Retrieved from:

[iii] ibid
[iv] ibid