Event will last all day Friday at college's greenhouse

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FARMINGTON — Nearly 1,000 trees of various species will be offered for free to local residents during Friday's inaugural Arbor Day Tree Giveaway at San Juan College.

Staff members started planning the event two years ago and began planting the trees for the giveaway in November, according to the college's physical plant senior director, Chris Harrelson, one of the organizers. The young trees were moved from the college's greenhouse to its slat house last week to help them acclimate to outdoor conditions before they are taken home this weekend.

Grounds maintenance supervisor Aiessa Thomas, who also helped organize the event, said she is anticipating a good response to the giveaway, judging by the number of people who have expressed an interest in it on the college's Facebook page.

Harrelson said staff members planted a small group of trees last year just to see how they would fare.

"They did so well, we said, 'Let's try to make this an official thing,'" he said.

But Thomas said their methods can always be improved, noting the fact that approximately 400 of the trees they planted did not survive.

"Mother Nature's always got something to teach us," she said.

The tree species featured in the giveaway are all drought tolerant to one degree or another, she said, and while they may not all be native to the Four Corners, they are all species that are not invasive.

Harrelson said funding for the trees came from donations, and the San Juan College Foundation has pledged to support the event each year. He said those who take home a tree will be asked to return the plastic pot it came in so it can be used again to keep costs low for future giveaways.

Experts will be on hand Friday to offer advice on how to properly plant and care for the trees. If you're unsure about whether there is a suitable spot in your yard where a tree might thrive, Thomas said there's no harm in exploring the idea.

"Come and ask," she said. "We'll have plenty of people around. We want to give our trees that will fit people's needs."

Harrelson said the primary goal of this year's event is to measure community interest in the event so that organizers know how many trees to prepare in the future. But he hopes the giveaway has a lasting impact.

"We want these trees 50, 60, 80 years from now to be big, beautiful things," he said.

Thomas said a great deal of work has gone into the giveaway, and she intends to see it become a widely anticipated annual event.

"I'm pretty committed," she said, smiling. "We love trees."

The event takes place from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the greenhouse on the college campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. Call 505-566-3697 or visit sanjuancollege.edu/ArborDay.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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