Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

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February 7, 2013

Tree planting helps replenish plot destroyed by drought and disease

JACKSONVILLE — The Ruth Bowling Nichols Arboretum was treated to some TLC Saturday by Scouts from Rusk and the Cherokee County Master Gardeners, as the groups replaced trees lost to disease and drought over the past year, said Jason Ellis of the Texas A&M Forest Service in Jacksonville.

“We’d lost roughly 30-plus pine, oak and elm that varied in size and age due to hypoxlyn canker and effects of the 2011 drought,” he said, adding that the trees ranged in size from “small to fairly large, mature trees that were anywhere from 60-80 feet high. I'm sure we may have lost a few that were around the 100-year mark, like some of our mature oaks.”

Last summer, Jacksonville District Resource Specialists cleared trees from the arboretum, and on Saturday, 26 members of Boy Scout Pack 405 and Cub Scout Pack 227, both of Rusk, and their parents planted 100 longleaf pine seedlings, while more than a dozen master gardeners planted 25 flowering dogwoods and 25 yellow poplars.

“We had two big open areas where we decided to replant with hardwood and pines that, all together, were a little less than half-acre” in size, Ellis said.

Master Gardener president Keith Billings said the group offered to help with the arboretum project after talking with Ellis, who described damage to trees on the property.

 “We were more than happy to be able to help (because) part of our obligation is to provide educational and community outreach,” he explained. “The Arboretum is home for our demonstration garden and for our outdoor classrooms, so we want it to be attractive to the community.”

A 3.5-acre plot was donated in 1996 by then-businessman Robert Nichols (now a state senator) for the home of a new Texas A&M Forest Service office building, according to the forestry website. Nichols also leased an adjacent plot to the forest service, roughly similar in size. The entity decided to create an arboretum that would be used to educate school children and serve Boy Scouts, Master Gardeners “and other local groups,” the site states.

By 1999, the new office opened its doors, with the arboretum – named for Sen. Nichols' mother, Ruth Bowling Nichols and featuring different types of forests – opening soon after.

In 2008, the Cherokee County Master Gardeners inked a letter of agreement with the Texas Forest Service and by the following year, began working on projects at the 1015 SE Loop 456, Jacksonville site.

They operate a 5,000-square-foot demonstration garden, as well as a 1,500-square-foot shade garden. A future project entails the creation of a fireline, Billings said, using native plants and smart planning to help home- and business owners create a less fire-friendly environment.

The master gardeners also sponsor the annual Scarecrow Trails in late October, host two plant sales a year and the demonstration garden and arboretum have been part of the city's spring garden tour.

Ellis said that seedlings used in Saturday's project were purchased by the Cherokee County Master Gardeners.

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