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County to give away 1,000 trees for Arbor Day

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In honor of Georgia's Arbor Day -- which is celebrated two and a half months earlier than National Arbor Day -- several Clayton County environmental departments are coming together to urge residents to plant a tree.

On Friday, the Clayton County Soil and Water Conservation District, Extension Service, Master Gardeners Program and Keep Clayton County Beautiful will give away trees from noon to 4 p.m., at the Extension Service office, located at 1262 Government Circle in Jonesboro.

Angie Billups, district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in McDonough, helps provide federal assistance to conservation districts in Butts, Spalding, Fayette, Henry, and Clayton counties for the purpose of reducing soil erosion and improving water quality. She said this is the first year the Clayton County Soil and Water Conservation District has sponsored the giveaway.

"It's important for parents and grandparents to show their kids at a young age how important it is to be good stewards of the land," said Billups. "We chose this time because of the weather here in the south ... you typically want to plant your trees in the fall when its cool.

"This is the perfect time," Billups continued. "If you wait any later than March to plant, it may be too hot in this environment."

Billups said 1,000 dogwood and redbud trees will be given to local residents until supplies run out. She said both trees tend to grow 12 to 20 feet in height with a trunk diameter of 12-18 inches.

Vacal Caldwell, chair of the Clayton County Soil and Water Conservation District, said the giveaway would be a good way to introduce the conservation district to residents, as well a provide a means of retarding the erosion caused by storm water runoff.

"You get a lot of erosion from short-lived thunderstorms," said Caldwell. "The ground is so hard right now, [top soil] runs right off. If you have trees, the water doesn't hit the ground as hard, so you don't have that immediate wash away effect that you have on barren land.

"They're just a good tree for a residential environment," Caldwell continued. "They don't grow too big and they are beautiful in the springtime."

Tom Bonnell, horticultural program assistant for the county extension service, said about a dozen certified master gardeners would be on site at the giveaway, handing out informational brochures and teaching people how to properly maintain their trees.

"The root has to have loose soil so it can spread out," said Bonnell. He said that common mistakes in tree planting are digging a hole too deep, not digging the hole wide enough, fertilizing the tree too early, and not watering it properly.

"Any questions on how to plant a tree, the master gardeners will help them with," said Bonnell.