Tree City USA, aka Huntsville, celebrates all things arbor with Tree Planting Day

single-meta-cal November 4, 2020

“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.”

– Joyce Kilmer

They tower above us, reaching to the heavens.

Through them, Huntsville has earned a well-deserved recognition.

A city that helped put men on the moon.

A city coined the “Pentagon of the South.”

A city known as Tree City USA.

“We’ve been a Tree City USA for 29 years,” said Operation Green Team Director Joy McKee. “This year will be 30 years.”

It’s an honor that a lot of Huntsville residents may not realize. But it’s an honor the community and officials still hold dear.

Tree Planting Day

On Saturday, November 7, the City’s status as a Tree City USA will be on full display during the seventh-annual Mayor’s Tree Planting Day at John Hunt Park.

“People can show up, pick a tree and plant it,” said City Arborist Marc Byers.

Byers said holes will be dug for roughly 350 trees but, for those who want to put shovel to dirt, “we’ll leave a few holes ‘undug.’”

The event is from 8 a.m. to noon and the City’s Green Team and Landscape Management Department will provide free seedlings, supplies and information for how to plant them while they last.

“This is a huge opportunity for the community to take part in,” McKee said. “Some families have made this a tradition.

“It will be fun and educational. It’s a good way to get a free tree and let us know five years from now how it’s doing.”

John Hunt Park is on the site of the original Huntsville airport and the City has been working to convert the former paved runways into a green recreation area.

“It had little to no trees seven years ago,” said Brian Walker, a supervisor with Landscape Management.

At the end of the event Saturday, there will be some 1,300 trees in the park.

Tree City Standards

As we know, money doesn’t grow on trees but it does take money to grow them.

And the City is ahead of the game in spending to increase our “green canopy.” Huntsville also exceeds the requirement mandated to be a certified Tree City USA.

There are four standards cities must meet to qualify:

  • Have a tree board or department
  • Have a tree care ordinance
  • Have a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita
  • an Arbor Day observance and proclamation

“We are spending six times the requirement to become a Tree City USA,” Byers said.

The per capita fee goes toward the planting, care and removal of City trees – those on public property and rights-of-way.

“It’s impressive what our leadership does to support” the programs, Byers said.

Community Assistance

The community also contributes with donations of greenspace and greenbacks to help increase the green canopy.

“If people want to donate money for trees around the city, we are grateful for that,” McKee said. “It’s a gift that will continue giving.”

Recently, the City dedicated the Eric Obermann Linear Forest at Aldridge Creek Greenway in memory of Eric Obermann, a Huntsville resident who died of ALS. The Eric S. Obermann Foundation, led by Eric’s father, Stuart, donated $28,000 to install the forest.

Back in April, 293 trees were planted along the south Huntsville greenway in his memory. When they reach maturity, the trees will provide shade for more than a half-mile of the greenway.

McKee said another mission of the City is teaching people how to choose trees that are appropriate for their environment. People shouldn’t just get a tree, dig a hole, plant and water it.

There is much more to it.

“We educate people on how to pick the right tree and place it in the right place in your yard,” she said. “You must be careful where you put them.”

Before planting a tree, residents should dial 811 – the national call-before-you-dig phone number – or visit to check on the approximate location of underground utilities.

When planting, choose a site that is away from power lines and buildings. The site should also have room for the tree’s roots and base, so sidewalks and curbs should be avoided as well as rights-of-way.

Inspiring the Next Generation

Education also includes teaching the importance of trees to the environment and people’s self-worth.

“We want to get the next generation interested in carrying out the mission,” McKee said. “If you get a child out in nature, they will appreciate trees.

“Once they are ‘bit by the bug,’ they will take home a tree and love on it.”

Of course, trees are more than just aesthetics. They are life-sustaining and life-enriching.

Trees help provide clean air and create oxygen. They absorb storm water and reduce flooding, thus abetting erosion.

Trees, of course, also provide homes for birds, squirrels and other wildlife.

Economically speaking, money can grow on trees. They provide timber for construction and improve curb appeal for homes, thus enhancing their value.

Trees also help stimulate economic development in municipalities that are certified as a Tree City. Companies are attracted to those cities because of the enhanced quality of life for future employees.

Trees enhance roadways and thoroughfares; not to mention our city parks and areas downtown. The Gateway Greenway, a pedestrian path from Meridian Street to the Veterans Memorial near the Depot, is a perfect example of an arbor-enhanced downtown.

In fact, our City arborist handpicked every tree in the greenway.

Tree Recommendations

The City recommends some trees for Huntsvillians to plant, ranging from less than 20 feet to more than 35 feet in height at maturity.

The shorter trees include Japanese maples and some crapemyrtles. Trees that are 20 feet to 35 feet tall include flowering dogwoods and cherry trees, redbuds, gold rain trees, Chinese pistache and Japanese maples, and taller crapemyrtles.

The larger trees include sugar and red maples, white and red oaks, tree-form hollies, tulip poplars, dawn redwood, black gum, bald Cypress and American elm hybrids.

And, of course, McKee, Byers and Walker have their favorites.

McKee likes the male Ginko, Byers is a white oak fan and Walker’s tree of choice is the red oak.

“Nobody loves trees more than this group,” McKee said.

And she urges anyone who also shares a love for trees to volunteer Saturday at Tree Planting Day.

“Come out and plant a tree to make a difference in the environment,” she said.