TUPELO – In 10 years, citizens of Tupelo can stand under the pinkish-white blossoms of 1,000 cherry trees to be planted in Ballard Park to celebrate a peaceful union between Japan and the U.S.
The first 100 trees will be planted around the park’s lake on Oct. 19 before the North Mississippi Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring when the trees are in full bloom.
Public Works, partnering with Tupelo Parks & Recreation, plans to plant 100 trees a year.
In 1912, Japan donated cherry trees to the U.S. to symbolize friendship between the countries.
In conjunction with the consul-general of Japan, the festival, still in the planning stage, will be the first one hosted in Mississippi.
Alex Farned, director of the city’s parks and recreation department, said the festival, along with the cherry trees, will be a way to blend cultures.
“With Toyota being close to us and being a major impact in our economy, how do we, on a different level, educate and bring together what the Japanese have brought to our community?” he said. “We want to show our support through this festival so everyone can learn about their culture as well.”
To nurse a cherry tree
Inspecting the branches of a cherry tree at the Tupelo Tree Farm, Junior Swords, crew leader at Public Works, said in the nine years of working with trees, this was a new project for him.
The trees are described as his “babies” after he took lead of caring for them by spraying them and making sure they are watered regularly.
David Knight, supervisor of right of way and grounds for Public Works, received the first 100 trees for $10,000 when they were already three years old from Mid-South Nursery in Tupelo.
“We’ve kept them for a year under irrigation and fertilization,” he said. “They have to have a special spraying three times a year. Root rot is a bad problem with them, which is one reason we still have them in pots.”
Once they’ve planted the trees, Public Works will fertilize them with time-release capsules that will work for two years. Within seven to eight years, depending on the ground, the trees will grow to be fairly thick.
Knight contacted Mississippi State University researchers to get some recommendations on how to take care of the trees.
“They recommended to keep the root rot under control so they can drain well and to keep an eye out for bores,” he said.
Knight said the trees will beautify the City of Tupelo.
“Anytime you add something that’s blooming in the early spring after a cold, dreary winter, I think everybody likes to see new blooms and new life come about,” he said. “It has a symbol with it, a culture of peace with the Japanese behind it.”
In order to keep the program firmly planted, Knight said its continuation depends on the citizens.
“It’s not just a city project,” he said. “We are taking care of them and planting them, but the purchase and how well it does depends on the attention it gets, on how the citizens get involved.”