County plants 800th tree during planting lesson

It started with a reading of “The Lorax” by Dr. Suess and ended with 15 trees being planted throughout the grounds at the Easton Newberry Sports Complex.

On Friday two dozen students from Greenfield Preschool in Newberry gathered around to watch and learn as Alachua County Arborist Lacy Holtzworth demonstrated how to properly plant a tree.

According to Holtzworth, volunteers have now placed 800 trees in Alachua County public spaces since the start of the annual Arbor Day planting effort four years ago.

Terry Harpold, University of Florida professor and director of Imagining Climate Change, gives extra credit to his students who volunteer to help plant trees and several showed up to help along with Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe, city staff and members of the Alachua County Master Gardeners program who also gave away trees to the public.

Harpold has worked with Holtzworth for five years now planting trees and using the activity as an opportunity to get his students involved in the community effort. 

“She picks the sites, she picks the species and I bring in teams of students to help,” said Harpold, adding that they often will pose with trees that they helped plant years later when they graduate. “The students get a lot out of it.”

Alachua County arborist Lacy Holtzworth and Shae Dionne, 9, from Newbery Elementary School watering

Holtzworth gave step-by-step instructions as she planted a live oak tree with the help of students.

“Trees are integral with all of humanity,” she said. “We write on paper with wooden pencils.” 

The Arbor Day tree planting tradition started 150 years ago, Holtzworth said. Four years ago she joined the county and was asked to reach out to smaller communities to help with tree planting efforts.

“We have trees in every city now,” she said. “Today will be our 800th. This was always a program about planting trees where we need them—in schools, parks, quasi-public places.”

Holtzworth got to work and narrated the steps to properly plant or establish a tree.

“A live oak can live 300 years but it has to get a good start,” she told the students explaining there can be no tangled roots and be careful not to plant the tree too deep.

“Contractors often plant trees as fast as they can,” she said and pointed to a live oak tree planted too deep and stunted in growth just 50 feet away. “We’re trying to make sure we have a good start on these.”

Alachua County arborist Lacy Holtzworth at the Easton Newberry Sports Complex

Step one is to dig a hole that is the exact size of the root ball, Holtzworth said.

“I go to the nursery and I hand select every tree,” she said. “In the nursery they put this little sapling into a pot of mulch and the mulch breaks down so they throw in more dirt.”

That’s why once she removed the tree from the planter, she cut down to reveal the first lateral root.

“The actual root crown is often a couple of inches below,” she said.

She also explained how damaging nursery tape can be to a tree as it tries to grow.

“Look for tape on the tree. I see a lot of trees girdled by nursery tape,” she said, and gave the students permission to remove that tape if they see it on trees to help save it.

“When is the best time to plant a tree?” she asked. The answer—20  years ago.

The top root should be level to the hole in the ground surface, she said.

“If planted too deep, the tree will actually sink into the ground.”

She grabbed a rake handle and explained about letting any air pockets get released as she poked the soil around the newly planted tree and bubbles rose to the surface, thrilling the kids who oohed and aahed at the sight.

Holtzworth enlisted student volunteers to water the tree and to help build a dirt ring around it.

Alachua County arborist Lacy Holtzworth at the Easton Newberry Sports Complex with tree planters

“Roll your sleeves up and help build a ring around the bottom of the tree like a castle,” she said and students did just that.

Newberry Elementary School student Shae Dionne, 9,  was in charge of watering the plant as other students pushed dirt into place.

Finally, Holtzworth rocked the tree back and forth to make sure it was stable and storms wouldn’t blow it over.

She reminded students to always rake the leaves that fall into a circle around the bottom of the tree because those leaves serve as the perfect mulch. She then added a guard to the base to make sure the trunk doesn’t get harmed by a weed wacker.

This is a baby tree just five years old, she told the students who were excited to be older than the 6-foot-tall tree.

“This tree will live 300 years,” she told the students. “You guys can bring your grandchildren to see it.”

To learn more about the Arbor Day program visit the county website.

Find tree establishment instructions by clicking here.

There will be three more spring 2022 tree planting events with the next one slated for Feb. 12  at Oak View Middle School in Newberry followed by March 12 off Newberry Lane in Newberry and on April 22 (Earth Day) at a location to be announced.

For more information reach out to Holtzworth at Lholtzworth@alachuacounty.us or (352) 548-1266.

Alachua County arborist Lucy Holtzworth and Greenfield Preschool students at Easton Newberry Sports Complex
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