Arbor Day was originally created in Nebraska in 1874 to promote planting trees and became a nationwide observance in 1882. Although the national date is the last Friday in April, states alter this date based on the best time to plant trees. In Florida, it is the third Friday in January.

Nebraska is on the Great Plains and had few trees. Trees were needed as windbreaks to keep soil in place, for fuel and building materials and for shade. However, there are many more reasons to plant trees now, even if we are fortunate enough to have a lot of trees in Florida natural areas. Trees add value to your home, help cool your home and neighborhood, provide food for wildlife and help break the wind.

The Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers claims a mature tree can often have an appraised value of $1,000 to $10,000. Realtors surveyed report that mature trees have a strong to moderate impact on the salability of homes, and that landscaping with trees can increase property values as much as 10 to 20 percent. Human stress, measured in blood pressure and muscle tension, is reduced within five minutes of looking at trees.

The impact of trees on the home is not just in aesthetic value. Trees also help reduce air conditioning costs. Research indicates that a tree planted on the west side of your home will provide a three percent energy use reduction in five years and twelve percent reduction in fifteen years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture claims that the net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-sized air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. The USDA Forest Service claims that trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent. Just think back to a hot summer day in the city where there are no trees, just sidewalks, roads, and buildings. That situation is much hotter than a street shaded by trees. Cities are always several degrees warmer than areas with trees.

Trees provide an environmental benefit by absorbing carbon so that it does not increase levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Trees also release oxygen for us to breathe. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that one acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen — enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people. Tree roots also serve to reduce pollution runoff and assist water recharge to the ground water supply. Tree roots are much deeper and more extensive than turf roots, allowing them to absorb more of the runoff than turf, and providing ways for water to move down through the soil.

The Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District promotes the planting of trees for these reasons with an annual Tree Give-Away in the UF/IFAS Extension Discovery Gardens in partnership with the Florida Forest Service. This year the Tree Give-Away is at 11 a.m on Thursday, Jan. 19. The native trees are 8 to 24-inch tall bare-root seedlings, including dahoon holly, chickasaw plum, redbud, green ash, and slash pine. The trees are free to the public and are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last.

Visit the Discovery Gardens and our plant clinic with your plant problems and questions 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays at the Extension Center, 1951 Woodlea Road, Tavares. Go to our website for more details and class registrations at lake.ifas.ufl.edu.

Juanita Popenoe is the director of the UF/IFAS Lake County Extension Office and environmental horticulture production agent III. Email jpopenoe@ufl.edu.