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SEPTEMBER is spring - a good time for planting and gardening. It is also Arbor Month, and a time to plant and nurture trees.

Arbor Month 2014

Around the world, Arbor Day is a celebration day on which individuals and groups are encouraged to plant and care for trees. The date varies as it is usually observed in the spring, depending on climate and suitable planting season.

In South Africa, we do things a little differently. Arbor Day is on 1 September, or Spring Day, and Arbor Week runs until 7 September annually. In more recent years, it has been extended to a month-long event, Arbor Month. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as the custodian of forestry, is responsible for the campaign. It calls on all South Africans to plant indigenous trees as a practical and symbolic gesture of sustainable environmental management.

The month has been divided into categories, with each of the weeks devoted to one aspect of trees. In week one, the focus is on the importance of trees to life and the environment:

  • Trees increase biodiversity;
  • Trees add nitrates to soil, making it more fertile to grow other plants;
  • Urban tree planting improves pride of place;
  • Trees provide healthy and beautiful places for children to play and learn;
  • Fruit trees provide nutritious fruit to eat; and
  • Trees improve an area's water quality.

In week two, the focus is on how to plant trees:

  • Select the right time of the year for planting a tree: if you plant your tree at the wrong time of year it is less likely to survive and grow;
  • Check to see if there are any local requirements about digging;
  • Choose a suitable tree for the region, climate, and space: trees native to your area tend to do well;
  • Prepare the hole: dig a hole that is four to five times the width of the root ball - it must be bigger so that the root ball will fit;
  • Prepare the tree for planting: you need to do this to make sure that you are planting your tree properly so that it will survive; and
  • Place the tree into the hole gently: be sure the hole is not too deep or too shallow.

In the third week, the focus is on the benefits of tree planting. They are crucial to maintaining healthy life on Earth because:

  • Trees reduce global warming;
  • More trees means more wood and paper products, which can easily be recycled;
  • Trees increase property value: the beauty of a well-planted property and its surrounding street and neighbourhood can raise property values for the street;
  • Trees add unity as landmarks and can give a neighbourhood a new identity; and
  • Trees absorb dust and wind, and reduce glare.

In the final week of Arbor Month, the focus is on caring for trees. There are several steps that must be taken to ensure your tree grows healthy and strong:

  • Water the plant at least once a day;
  • Allow the plant to receive sufficient sunlight;
  • Place compost around the tree if necessary; and
  • Pull out any weeds that grow within about a metre of the tree.

Two indigenous trees are chosen each year to be trees of the year, one common and one rare, and people are encouraged to plant these species. This year, they are:

  • Common tree: Heteropyxis Natalensis Harvey, also known as the lavender tree, laventelboom or inkunzi; and
  • Rare tree: Vepris lanceolota, also known as the white ironwood, witysterhout, muruvula, muhondwa, umzane or umozana.

Arbor Month is a time for the government, the private sector, non-governmental and community based organisations and the public to be involved in greening their communities, which includes planting, care and management of all vegetation in urban and rural areas, to secure multiple benefits for communities

Historically, South Africa did not have a culture of tree planting and it was not until the 1970s that a real need to promote tree planting was recognised. The concept of a National Arbor Day ensued from the 1973 Green Heritage Campaign. Following requests from various bodies, the then department of forestry established National Arbor Day in 1982, and it has been in place countrywide since 1983.

In 1996, the minister of water affairs and forestry extended Arbor Day from one day to one week. The celebration:

  • Promotes a better knowledge of trees, particularly indigenous trees;
  • Stresses the necessity for everyone to plant trees and care for them;
  • Highlights the vital role of trees in our lives; and
  • Contributes to the achievement of a green, dignified and healthy environment in all parts of South Africa.