The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is now.
That piece of wisdom comes from an ancient Chinese proverb, and because the folks lined up in the parking lot of Ace Hardware in Hermiston Saturday didn’t appear to have access to a working time machine, they chose to plant their trees now.
And the trees they are planting came courtesy of the Hermiston Rotary Club and the Hermiston Parks and Recreation Committee. Saturday marked the 22nd consecutive year of the Tree Giveaway in celebration of Arbor Day. A good-sized line of people waited patiently for the seven breeds of trees to be separated and placed in buckets so they could be handed out for free.
“Take as many as you can plant,” Carlisle Harrison told the crowd as the tree giveaway began. “We don’t mind you taking several – we just want trees planted in Hermiston.”
The seven breeds available Saturday were river birch, purple smoke, Norway maple, green ash, jacquemontii birch, whitespire birch and red maple.
“The trees are guaranteed or double your money back,” joked Pat Hart, who assisted Harrison in handing out the saplings.
Umatilla County Commissioner Dennis Doherty was among those waiting in line on Saturday. Doherty is a regular at the tree giveaways. He said he was interested this year in getting a purple smoke sapling or two along with a couple of Norway maples.
“I’ve got Norway maples that have done well in the past,” Doherty said.
Phil and Evelyn Olp of Hermiston picked up two each of the purple smokes, white birches and jacquemontii birches. They arrived early to make sure they got what they wanted.
Others, however, only learned about the tree giveaway when they pulled into the Ace Hardware parking lot to do some shopping. More than one person was spotted taking out their cell phones and making quick calls to home.
“Hey – they’re giving away trees,” one man was overheard telling – presumably – his spouse, on his phone. “Do we want any?”
Apparently they didn’t, as the man left without a tree. But plenty others did. Harrison said they had about 2,000 trees to give out and in the 22 years they’ve been at it, there have never been any trees left when the day was over.
Harrison, a member of the Hermiston Parks and Recreation Committee, said the trees come from a nursery in Salem. He drove over to Salem on Friday to pick up the saplings. He said the Parks and Rec Committee do their research and make sure to get trees that are compatible with Hermiston’s soil and climate.
Harrison and Hart also offered some helpful planting advice to those picking up their trees. It’s important, Harrison said, to soak the saplings prior to planting them in the ground. Be sure to spread out the roots as you plant them and make sure to keep the ground moist.
“You don’t want them drying out,” he said. It’s also good to know how big the tree can grow before you plant. For example, the Norway maple, red maple and green ash can grow up to 80 feet tall, Harrison said, although it will take them about 30 years to reach that height. So if you want a nice, tall tree in your yard, maybe you should have paid attention to the Chinese proverb and planted it 20 years ago.
Then again, now’s not a bad time, either.