Consider this Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

That is especially true in Louisiana.

Planting during December, January and February provides plants with several months to develop a strong root system before they put out a new flush of leaves and flowers in spring.

Nurseries are bringing in woody trees and shrubs to plant now. Tropical plants will be available later in the warmer season when they are less likely damage by colder temperatures.

The National Arbor Day Foundation has started the "Time for Trees" initiative to highlight how “trees clean our air, protect our drinking water, create healthy communities and feed the human soul.” Founded by J. Sterling Morton in 1872 in Nebraska City, Nebraska, where an estimated 1 million trees were planted, Arbor Day is celebrated every year.

While much of the country celebrates Arbor Day on April 30, the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens, 4560 Essen Lane, will hold its annual Arbor Day event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 23. Free and open to the public, the event will feature educational talks on native trees given by experts from the LSU AgCenter. You can plant a tree while there and get GPS coordinates so you can come back and visit “your” tree and watch it grow for generations to come.

When deciding what trees and shrubs to plant, consider the year-round interest of those plants. A great design will have beauty and interest in each season. That can include evergreen plants, flowering plants and deciduous plants that have excellent fall foliage change.

Evergreen trees and shrubs provide year-round greenery and are popular in almost every landscape design. Some good, large evergreen trees include live oak, Southern magnolia, Leyland cypress and American holly.

Southern magnolia has fragrant white flowers in late spring to midsummer, and the female trees of American holly sport gorgeous red berries in winter that attract birds and other wildlife.

Some medium-sized evergreen trees are Southern wax myrtle, camphor tree and red bay.

You can choose from several small evergreen trees with many different functions. Some have flowers and put on a display in the late fall into early spring. These include camellia japonica and camellia sasanqua.

Other fragrant flowering trees include loquat, banana shrub and sweet olive. Trees like Burford Chinese holly, yaupon holly and eastern red cedar are great for providing a source of food for wildlife.

Compared to evergreen trees, there are many more deciduous trees that can be planted in Louisiana. Some large deciduous trees with good fall foliage change that are also great as shade trees for the landscape are American beech, bald cypress, basswood, pecan, tulip tree, sycamore and cucumber magnolia.

Some outstanding small, spring-flowering deciduous trees are fringe tree, flowering dogwood, Taiwan cherry, saucer magnolia, parsley hawthorn, redbud and silver bell.

Other deciduous trees with outstanding fall foliage change are American hornbeam or ironwood, hop-hornbeam, swamp red maple, Japanese maple, Southern sugar maple, green ash, sweet gum, Chinese pistache and many oak species such as shumard oak, nuttall oak, white oak and post oak.

Planting trees is a great way to leave a lasting legacy for generations to enjoy. Trees can also be one of the keys to combating climate change by conserving energy, sequestering carbon and reducing the overall concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

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