Every year, Leon County Government offers free native trees to interested residents through the Adopt-a-Tree Program. Native plants are the base of our food chain, providing nectar for pollinators, including hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and bats, while also producing nuts, seeds, and fruits for all other forms of wildlife. Native trees, like our oaks, maples and pines, are very effective at storing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and can help combat climate change.
Due to the pandemic, this year residents will have the option to have a tree delivered to their residence for planting at their own convenience. Of course, those who need assistance or would like staff to assist with planting their tree can still request the free planting service. This change creates an opportunity for a fun and educational family project, and instructions for tree planting and tree care will be provided when the tree is delivered. Leon County will plant the tree anywhere between your house and any publicly maintained road or any privately maintained road with public access.
Since 2012, Leon County has planted nearly 2,000 trees in over 200 neighborhoods. Be part of the program and choose one of three choices this year–Sweetbay Magnolia, Swamp White Oak, and Red Buckeye. All three are native species that add value to local wildlife and add texture, color, and shade to your yard.
Sweetbay Magnolia, Magnolia virginiana, is a slender evergreen to semi-evergreen tree that is great for locations where there’s a bit less space for a wide canopy. It typically grows to 40-50 feet in height with a spread of 15 to 20 feet. White, lemon-scented flowers appear from June through September, giving way to small red seeds which are used by a variety of wildlife. In the wild, you will often see Sweetbay Magnolia in wetland areas, but it does very well in urban soils.
Swamp White Oak, Quercus bicolor, is a large shade tree with a spreading canopy that can grow to a mature height of 50-70 feet. Oaks make excellent habitat for birds and are host to hundreds of species of caterpillars which provide a food source for insectivorous birds.
Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, is a small native tree that reaches 15-20 feet in height with an about equal spread. Red Buckeye is most known for its 3-6 inch long red blooms which attract hummingbirds. This tree is shade tolerant, but it does well in a variety of exposures.
Matching the right tree to the right place is the best way to ensure the health and longevity of our trees. Take note of site factors such as sun/shade, soil type, and drainage, and find a tree species that fits those characteristics. You should also consider the mature size of the tree compared to the space constraints of the location, including overhead utility wires, nearby structures and hardscapes, and other plants. The University of Florida IFAS web page on trees offers great insight for those new to tree planting.
When you adopt a tree, you agree to water the tree three times a week for the first year. Suggested watering includes letting a hose thoroughly wet the root ball of the tree unless in the case of frequent substantial rain. Mulch should be maintained around the base of the tree at a depth of 2-4 inches, extending out to the tips of the branches. However, take caution against putting too much mulch up against the trunk of your tree, which may leave the tree devoid of oxygen and susceptible to harmful insects and root rot. More detailed tree care instructions will be left for you at your home at the time of planting.
The application for the program is available at Leon County’s website now. Trees will be planted between February and March 2021. If you want to have your tree planted, please place a wooden stake at the desired location. For more information on the Adopt-A-Tree program, visit www.LeonCountyFL.gov/AdoptATree.
If you live within Tallahassee City Limits, please take advantage of their Adopt A Tree Program. Information can be found at www.Talgov.com/AdoptATree