Free Trees!

— Written By NC Cooperative Extension


Written by: Charlotte Glen, Horticulture Agent

Trees are an essential part of our community, providing clean air, cooling shade, habitat for wildlife, beauty and much more. Unfortunately, many trees are lost each year due to development, hurricanes, pests, and drought. To help replant trees, a group of local and state organizations has been giving away free tree seedlings to area residents since 1997 at an annual event known as TreeFest.

This year  TreeFest is scheduled to take place Friday, Jan. 20th from 10am to 5pm, and Saturday, Jan. 21th from 10am to 5pm, in the JC Penney wing of Independence Mall in Wilmington. Residents are invited to come by and pick up five free tree seedlings during TreeFest.


What to Expect

The trees given away during TreeFest are seedlings purchased from the North Carolina Forest Service. They start out small, anywhere from 6 inches to around 3 feet tall, but grow quickly. The Forest Service collects the seeds and grows these trees in eastern NC, which ensures they are well adapted to our local climate.

This year there will be around 20 different types of native trees available. These include small flowering trees like crabapple, dogwood, and redbud, as well as large shade trees such as live oak, longleaf pine, and willow oak. Tree species will be available for a variety of different habitats. For low, wet areas, there are bald cypress and river birch, both of which are fast growing and easy to establish as seedlings. Trees suited for dry, sandy soils that will be available include southern red oak, eastern red cedar and live oak. Good varieties for wildlife you can expect to pick up include black gum, persimmon, wild plum, and mockernut hickory. A more complete list of the tree species that will be available can be found online here:


Which Are Right for Your Yard?

When choosing any type of plant for your landscape the most important thing to keep in mind is what conditions exist in your yard. Only by knowing your growing conditions can you choose plants that are naturally adapted to your yard and therefore more likely to thrive without lots of extra help. Be sure to think about your soil, whether it is sandy or clay, how quickly it drains, how much sun your yard gets, and whether deer or salt spray are likely to be a problem.

Also be sure to think about space, especially overhead. Tree seedlings may start out small but grow tall faster than you expect. Make sure you plant your trees in an area where they can grow to their full height and width without interfering with power lines, buildings, or other plants. Information about each trees mature size and preferred growing conditions will be available during TreeFest to help you choose the right tree for your site. In addition, Master Gardener Volunteers will be on site to provide expert advice.  


Caring for Tree Seedlings

Most of the seedlings that will be available will be “bare root”. This means they have not been grown in containers of potting soil; instead they have been dug from the ground and their roots will literally be bare of soil. Bare root seedlings will need to be planted right away.

To plant seedlings, dig a hole that is as deep as the trees root system. Make the hole at least twice as wide as it is deep to allow space for the roots to spread. Plant the seedling at the same depth it was growing before it was dug – you can usually tell the right depth because of changes in color or texture on the seedlings trunk. Fill soil in around the roots, firming the soil to get rid of any air pockets.

Once the tree is planted, water it well by allowing water to slowly drip over the soil for an hour or two. Apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch around the tree to hold in moisture and prevent weed competition. A slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote or organic fertilizer can be worked into the soil at planting time, but don’t overdo it – trying to force growth too fast can result in weak trees. The most important thing you can do to help your trees establish and grow is water them each week in the spring and summer if rainfall does not occur.


Learn More!

If you can’t make TreeFest, or need more trees, seedlings can be purchased from the NC Forest Service through their website, Most varieties are available in bundles of 10.

Learn more about planting and after care of seedling trees from this Virginia Dept. of Forestry website:

If you have questions about caring for young trees contact your local Cooperative Extension office. In Pender County, call 259-1235, visit our office at 801 S. Walker St. in Burgaw (Mon –Fri, 8am – 5pm) or visit us online anytime at //, where you can post your questions to be answered by email using the ‘Ask an Expert’ widget!

Visit the Pender Gardener Blog to stay up to date on all the latest gardening news,


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Posted on Jan 20, 2012
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