What is the difference between Earth Day and Arbor Day? Earth Day Vs Arbor Day - History and Ways to Celebrate

Earth Day Vs. Arbor Day: History & Celebrations

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What is the difference between Earth Day and Arbor Day?

Short answer:

Arbor Day started first and focuses specifically on planting more trees.

Earth Day came about later and includes all aspects of environmental education and action.

Basically, both are awesome.

Long answer: Let’s dive deeper and explore what makes these important days unique and what they have in common. Plus, we’ll cover meaningful Earth Day and Arbor Day activities for families to observe these special days.

Earth Day Vs. Arbor Day - History & Ways to Celebrate - Grand Ravines Park in Jenison, Michigan

Grand Ravines Park in Jenison, Michigan

Earth Day Vs. Arbor Day: When Are They?

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22 each year in the US.

Arbor Day is mostly commonly celebrated on the last Friday in April (April 30 in 2021). Since the goal of Arbor Day is to plant trees, the celebration date can vary by state or region depending on the best growing season for the area. For example, Maine celebrates Arbor Day in May and Hawaii celebrates in November.

Earth Day Vs. Arbor Day: When Did They Start?

Arbor Day

Arbor Day originated in Nebraska in 1872. In this Great Plains region, pioneers noted the lack of trees and recognized how valuable more trees would be to provide much needed firewood and building materials. Additional trees would also help crops by serving as windbreaks and offering shade.

Through his position as a Nebraskan newspaper editor, J. Sterling Morton shared the benefits of trees and advocated for the community to plant more of them. In 1872, the Nebraskan State Board of Agriculture approved a proposal by Morton for a designated day to plant trees.

On the first Arbor Day, April 10, 1872, it is estimated that one million trees were planted in Nebraska. Considered a huge success, Arbor Day became an official Nebraskan state holiday. Later, the celebration date changed to Morton’s birthday on April 22.

Today, Arbor Day is recognized in all 50 states in the US and several countries throughout the world as well. The official date of Arbor Day continued to evolve and is now commonly celebrated on the last Friday in April, although the date varies by region.

Earth Day Vs. Arbor Day - History & Ways to Celebrate

Earth Day

The first Earth Day took place a century later in 1970. Concerned about recent damaging oil spills, Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin worked with volunteers to organize teach ins on college campuses across the country to raise awareness about air and water pollution.

The date of the first Earth Day was selected to take place on Arbor Day, to combine with environmental celebrations already taking place. It was also an ideal date for college students, falling between spring break and final exams. On April 22, 1970, over 20 million Americans from different personal and political backgrounds joined together in rallies and educational programs to speak out about the damaging environmental effects on communities and wildlife.

Momentum from the first Earth Day in 1970 led to the development of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many environmental protection laws including the Clear Air Act and Clean Water Act.

Today, Earth Day is celebrated by over 1 billion people in 193 countries and is recognized as the largest day of civic action worldwide.

Earth Day Vs. Arbor Day: How To Celebrate Today

While Earth Day and Arbor Day are observed on separate days, they share the same objective of making our planet a better place for all living creatures. Both days can include some of the same nature focused activities such as planting trees and learning about the environment.

Earth Day Vs. Arbor Day - History & Ways to Celebrate - Grand Ravines Park in Jenison, Michigan

Grand Ravines Park in Jenison, Michigan

Arbor Day: It’s All About The Trees

One of the most universal ways to help the environment is to plant more trees. This spring, consider either planting a tree yourself or donating to a tree planting organization.

Why plant trees?

Besides providing beautiful scenery, there are so many benefits to trees. According to the Arbor Day website, trees can help:

  • Improve air quality
  • Increase mental health
  • Provide habitats for wildlife
  • Clean drinking water
  • Increase property values
  • Reduce crime
  • Save energy on heating and cooling
  • Reduce climate change effects

Plant trees in your own backyard.

First, research which type of tree would be the best fit for your geographic region and the amount of shade or sunlight in the specific area of your yard you plan to plant.

As you plant your tree, follow these steps to help it thrive: How to Plant A Tree the Right Way.

Earth Day Vs. Arbor Day - History & Ways to Celebrate

One year for Christmas we purchased a living Christmas pine tree from a local nursery. We decorated it with Christmas lights and kept it outside on the deck all winter long. The plan was to bring put it in the garage the week before Christmas to acclimate to the warmer weather, but it was quite heavy and covered with snow. We ended up enjoying our Christmas tree outside that year! Then in the spring, a little after Arbor Day, we planted the pine tree in our backyard.

Donate to an organization that plants trees.

Besides planting your own tree, there are also many worthy organizations to support that plant trees throughout local and global communities. Click A Tree is one of those awesome organizations.

What makes Click A Tree so awesome? Two reasons: They plant trees in some of the most vulnerable places globally and they create jobs for locals by planting trees.

When you donate to Click A Tree, you have the option to plant trees for elephants in Thailand, Kenya, and India, trees for entrepreneurs in Ghana or trees for the seas in the Philippines and Madagascar.

I partner with Click A Tree because I believe in their mission. If you donate through this link I will receive a small commission and you will make the world a better place. A win-win all around. 🙂

Earth Day: How To Celebrate

While planting trees is an amazing way to observe both Earth Day and Arbor Day, Earth Day also emphasizes environmental education and action. Here are some other ideas to meaningfully celebrate nature with your family for Earth Day.

Learn Together

1. Read children’s books about the environment.

Reading children’s books is a great way to learn about a topic, even for grown-ups! These are some of our family favorites that have inspiring messages about planting trees and making small changes around your home to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Earth Day & Arbor Day Books For Kids

2. Visit a nature center or community garden.

There are so many beautiful places in nature to explore and hands-on experiences are one of the best ways to learn about the environment.

In West Michigan, Frederik Meijer Gardens is an amazing place to visit that has lots of outdoor exhibits that allow for social distancing.

3. Listen to an educational podcast.

Check out a fun and educational podcast together as a family. These two are perfect for Earth Day: Earth Day Episode! Cool Animal Facts! or What if Mr. Eric answered the longest question ever?

Make A Difference Together

Earth Day Vs. Arbor Day - History & Ways to Celebrate - Plant Something Small

1. Plant something small.

Another alternative to planting a tree is planting something small like an indoor herb garden or patio planter or starting seedlings for a summer garden. Every little bit of greenery helps!

For more on this topic, check out my other posts on Planning A Garden With Kids and Planting Seeds Indoors With Kids.

2. Make an eco-friendly craft like nature art.

  • Gather your nature materials such as rocks, pinecones, leaves, and sticks. Be mindful not to disturb any living plants.
  • Choose a simple shape like a flower.
  • Fill in and decorate with your nature materials.
  • Enjoy your eco-friendly nature art!

3. Community clean up.

Even though group community clean up events may be limited in 2021 (although you can check here if interested – Great Global Cleanup), individual efforts can still add up to make a big difference.

Some organizations, like Kids Who Explore, are organizing virtual clean up events. Register for their worldwide Earth Day Planet Cleanup event here.

If your kids are mature enough to handle the task, simply plan a time to visit your favorite park or hiking trail and bring some trash bags and gloves and pick up any trash you may see.

4. Plan some plant based meals.

Reducing the amount of meat we eat is another way to help the environment. Raising livestock uses more resources and results in more harmful greenhouse gas emissions than growing plants.

As a family, brainstorm what plant based meals are your favorites and plan to eat more of those. Maybe veggie burgers and sweet potato fries? Vegetarian lasagna and Chocolate Chip Banana Bread for dessert? Black bean tacos with chips and salsa? Plan a specific day each week to have a plant based meal.

Happy Earth Day & Arbor Day!

I hope you enjoyed learning more about Earth Day Vs. Arbor Day. To recap, Arbor started first and focuses on the importance of caring for and planting more trees. A century later, Earth Day expanded upon Arbor Day’s mission to bring a global awareness to all areas of the environment including air and water pollution and take action to make the world a better place. Both play a part in bringing awareness to the environmental health of our planet and the ways we can improve it.

How do you plan to celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day this year?

Resources

Celebrate Arbor Day

Earth Day: The Official Site

For your convenience, this posts contains affiliate links for products I personally use and recommend. 


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22 thoughts on “Earth Day Vs. Arbor Day: History & Celebrations

  1. Hey Leah,

    I very much enjoyed learning more about Earth Day Vs. Arbor Day. For one, I had never heard about Arbor Day before so I have you to thank for raising my awareness. What I also love is that you offer a number of ways for your readers to get involved in taking care of the planet even if you cannot physically plant a tree.

    What I liked the most – the way you get the children involved – that’s fab because the sooner we can raise awareness at a young age the better we are in having environmentally conscious adults.

    Excellent
    Femi

    1. Hi Femi, I’m so glad you stopped by and learned a little about Arbor Day. Trees provide so many benefits for us, so it’s great to have a day to celebrate and plant trees.

      Exactly right, raising kids to appreciate nature can have big impacts, both on their own health and well-being and for the good of society as a whole.

      I hope you find a fun way to celebrate Arbor Day this year!

  2. Loves this post. I have known of Earth day and have always considered it an important day, but this is the first time I have heard of arbor day I am somewhat embarrassed to say. However what a great day. I love planting things, always big on gardens each year and plants, etc. My kids and I will most definitely be partaking in Arbor day this year and plant a tree together.

    Great post and so important! Thanks

    1. Earth Day seems to get more attention, doesn’t it? Which is funny since Arbor Day is the original, but you can’t go wrong celebrating either day.

      So awesome to hear you plan to celebrate Arbor Day and plant a tree with your kids this year. Happy planting!

  3. Very interesting article.

    We regularly plant trees for Arbor Day. When our kids were younger we would plant trees with Scouts Canada and Girl Guides of Canada. We later did it on our own in our own backyard.

    I love earth day because that is the day that as a family we unplug, absolutely no electronics on that day for any reason. We read paper “old-fashioned paper books”. We play board games by candlelight in the evening.

    If we want to go somewhere we walk or bicycle.

    We truly make this day about being kind to our environment and giving it a break from pollution.
    Thanks for sharing this great article.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your family traditions for Arbor Day and Earth Day, Deb! I love that idea of no electronics on Earth Day, especially playing board games by candlelight. Sounds like a cool idea to try with my family this year. 🙂

  4. Very informative post, I was not aware of Arbor day. I knew about Earth day because on that very day (22nd Apr) as our company as a part of their CSR activity had started “Save The Planet” campaign wherein the employees planted more than 100 trees.

    The ongoing pandemic has already shown us that due to air pollution there has been an increase in death rates. There has never been an urgent need for cleaner air for the planet than right now.

    1. That’s great to hear that your company has started a campaign to plant trees. Individual contributions and lifestyle changes will all add up. Even more so, corporations starting environmental initiatives and choosing more sustainable business practices can have a big impact on cleaner air and water for our communities.

      “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

  5. HI Leah

    Very nice article and website, its great to have people like you educating and making us remember the fundamental importance of nature. I only knew about Earth day and you just taught me what is Arbor day.

    Nature is the source of everything and we have to take great care of it, unfortunately nowadays we care more about technological and industrial progress which is at the stake of our beautiful planet.

    Keep on the great work

    Cheers

    1. Hi Arno, thanks for dropping by to read this post! Taking care of out planet is an important responsibility and it will definitely take everyone doing their part to help.

  6. Hi Leah,

    This was a fascinating article. I knew about both of these days. However, I didn’t know the history behind each of these days. I like your suggestions about celebrating each of these days. I like the idea of donating a tree to an area of the world that needs it the most. What a cool organization.

    -Amanda

    1. Hi Amanda! Click A Tree really is a great organization. I love that they provide a way to support planting trees in countries that need it most too.

      I hope you find a fun way to celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day this year!

  7. Both very important days, and especially to get people to stop and think about the world that they are living in and think about what they can do as individuals to help save the planet.

    If everyone just did a little, we could go a long way to build a healthier planet for future generations. It is amazing that something as simple as planting a tree can make such a difference to our atmosphere, but it does.

    We would like to put on a concert revolving around saving the earth. Do you have any musical ideas that we could use for this endeavor?

    1. Exactly, many small individual changes can add up to make a huge difference for the environment.

      I love your plan for a concert about saving the earth. Here are a few of my favorite songs about the environment:

      “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell or the newer version by Counting Crows

      “S.O.S. (Mother Nature)” by will.i.am

      “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons

      “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong

  8. Thank you very much for the amazing post!  I did not realize there was such a big difference between Earth Day and Arbor day.  To begin, I was shocked to see that Arbor day is older!  I did not expect that at all.  I do like the message of Arbor day, because we need to make sure to constantly be planting and taking care of trees.  After all, we need them!

    1. I always find it fascinating to learn the history behind things, so I’m glad you enjoyed learning something new about Arbor Day too!

      Exactly right, trees are so vital to our health as individuals and to the health of the planet.  

  9. Hello Leah, thank you for this article about earth day vs. arbor day. This is the first time that I have heard about arbor day though. I am only familiar of earth day and we don’t really observe it at home. But this article has given me the idea to really make a tradition around these days, or maybe start with one, like earth day, especially now that my 2 boys are growing bigger. Must be a good idea to expose them more to nature.

    1. Hi Julai, thanks for stopping by! I’m glad to hear you have gotten some ideas on celebrating Earth Day with your boys. Even simple things like taking a nature walk, reading a children’s book, or listening to a podcast about the environment are great ways to celebrate!

  10. Hi, as I was reading this great article about nature and the importance of the trees to our planet and all. 

    I remembered traveling to visit a friend who lived outside the city and when I arrived there, the first thing I noticed was the air I was now breathing, so different from the city atmosphere, 

    so fresh cool and healing as I think, I kept inhaling and exhaling it. the naturally beautiful air there as a forest kind of environment is awesome and very good for our health too.

    Now I know there is celebration for earth and arbor day which is interesting too.

    Thank you for sharing,

    1. Hi Christina, I love your beautiful description of mindfully breathing in fresh air. The air in the forest is so invigorating, isn’t it?

      I hope you find a meaningful way to celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day this year.

  11. Hi Leah, I was relieved to read in some of the comments that I am not the only one who had never heard of Arbor day before! 🙂

    Isn’t it great that those days exist? Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and the likes are all about more (at times even unnecessary) stuff, where Earth Day and Arbor Day are about taking care of the earth. I love that more.

    I guess you know about the search engine Ecosia? They plant a tree for each search someone does. I hope it’s not just ‘greenwashing’ but that they actually do it. It sure makes me feel better when I am searching the internet. 🙂

    Thanks for the ideas you gave in this article. I hope I am allowed to see my grandchildren any time soon and then we can do fun stuff in nature.

    1. Hi Hannie!

      Arbor Day is definitely the lesser known celebration, but isn’t it great having a specific day to celebrate trees?

      I will have to look more into the search engine Ecosia. It sounds like a great organization to support! Thanks for sharing.

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