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Arbor Day

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A Time to Celebrate Trees

Arbor Day is a national observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care. First celebrated in 1872, it was established as a way to encourage farmers and homesteaders to plant trees that would provide shade, shelter, food, fuel and beauty to open areas. In New York, Arbor Day is traditionally celebrated the last Friday in April. However, communities around the state can celebrate Arbor Day any day of the year.

Unlike other holidays, many of which honor people or past events, Arbor Day promotes a better future. Young people are our future foresters and leaders. This day reminds us to share our knowledge with today's youth of the importance of trees and how to care for them.

Arbor Day Poster Contest

2022 arbor day poster features trees with yellow and orange leaves along a misty road
2022 poster - photo by Robert McCloud

Each year the public is invited to submit photography and/or artwork to be considered for the State Arbor Day Poster. DEC prints 100,000 posters for distribution to the 3,500 NYS schools, the NYS Fair and other venues. It is a long time tradition and posters have become collectors items for many.

The most recent contest round closed on 12/31/2021.

Contest Rules

  • Both photographs and original artwork (paintings, drawings, etc.) may be submitted.
  • Photographs must be taken in New York State, and artwork must be of a NYS location.
  • Healthy trees without major defects tend to receive preference in judging.
  • Photos or digital scans of artwork must be submitted electronically and the quality must be at least 300 dpi at 8"x10".
  • Model consent forms are required for any distinguishable persons.
  • There is a limit of 3 submissions per artist/photographer.
  • Submissions must be received by 12/31/2021.

To submit your photography and/or artwork you must:

  • Complete the artist information form (PDF). You may complete one form for multiple submissions, but note the location for each photo or piece of artwork.
  • Complete a model consent form (PDF) for any distinguishable persons in the photo.
  • Submit artist information form, high resolution digital file, and model consent form (if applicable) via email to by 12/31/2021.

4th and 5th Grade Artwork Contest

Know a 4th or 5th grader? Encourage them to enter the 4th and 5th Grade Arbor Day Artwork Contest!

Commemorating Arbor Day While Social Distancing

While Arbor Day is traditionally celebrated as a public community event, there are lots of ways to celebrate as a family and to connect with your neighbors remotely. Even when we can not gather in person, we can still celebrate trees in our own yards and online. Here are some ideas for how to commemorate Arbor Day while social distancing:

For individuals and families:

For communities:

  • ​Want to host a socially-distanced tree planting? Use this checklist of things to consider and how to run one from the Alliance for Community Trees (leaves DEC website)
  • Create an Instagram hashtag where community members can post photos of their families commemorating Arbor Day.
  • Create a Facebook Live video so community members can watch your Arbor Day ceremony in real time.
  • Label street trees with sidewalk chalk to introduce locals to the trees around them. Include species, native region, and a fun fact or two.
  • Download our tree tags (PDF) and share photos of them on trees around town or in the local park. Community members will be shocked by the value and benefits of the trees in their neighborhood! Check out i-tree mytree (leaves DEC website), a simple web application that will calculate the benefits of trees in your neighborhood. You only have to know a few key facts about your tree: the species, condition, diameter and sun exposure.
  • Share some photos of your town's most famous trees, and include some fun and educational facts about why trees are important.
  • Have an online Arbor Day art or photography contest for all ages.
  • Arbor Day can be any day! While in New York State Arbor Day is officially celebrated on the last Friday in April, Arbor Day can be celebrated in the Summer, Fall, and even Winter! Trees are equally important and worth celebrating in every season.

Traditional Arbor Day Celebration Ideas

Please view the top of this webpage for ways you can celebrate Arbor Day during the COVID-19 situation.

Arbor Day is a great opportunity to promote tree planting and tree care within your school and community. Tree related activities, games and programs create excitement and promote participation in the event. Here are some examples:

photo of Arbor Day ceremony - a group of children and three adults planting trees
  • Hold an Arbor Day ceremony and honor the good stewards in your community.
  • Organize a "Big Tree" or "Oldest Tree" search.
  • Plant a tree.
  • Encourage the fifth grade classes in your community to participate in the Arbor Day National Poster Contest. Display the posters in a public place. (See the 4th and 5th Grade Arbor Day Artwork Contest page.)
  • Participate in the DEC School Seedling program.
  • Choose a public park or downtown area that needs cleaning up and pitch in to clear it of litter.
  • Hold a read-in at the library and have all the tree books - both fiction and nonfiction - on display.
  • Schedule local demonstrations on tree pruning techniques, tree selection, tree identification and tree planting.
  • Order tree and shrub seedlings from the State Tree Nursery and plant a living snow fence instead of one tree.

For more information about celebrating Arbor Day contact your local DEC office.

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