Countless trees went down or died across New Jersey over the past year as the result of storms, construction, or disease.

You have the chance to replace one...or five. At no charge.

The New Jersey Tree Recovery Campaign is making 90,000 tree seedlings available to residents. Over the next few weeks, you can grab a bundle of five free seedlings at one of 100-plus distribution sessions scheduled throughout the state.

The effort, led by the New Jersey Forest Service, launches Saturday in Ocean Gate. Individuals can visit the borough's post office from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. to pick up their seedlings.

Distribution of the seedlings runs through early May. All counties except Salem have at least one session scheduled. You can attend whichever session is most convenient; proof of residency is not required.

“Communities will receive species that grow well in their region,” New Jersey Forest Service Chief Todd Wyckoff said in a news release. “Municipalities in the northern part of the state may receive sugar maple or black oak trees, while towns in the south may receive Atlantic white cedar or other species adapted to this region. Seedlings distributed to shore towns may include bayberry or beach plum, shrubs commonly found on dunes and in other coastal environments.”

More than 30 species of trees will be distributed. They come from the New Jersey Forest Service Nursery in Jackson, which launched in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Since then, the program has made more than a half-million trees available to residents.

"We are stressing that it's really important that once you pick up the trees, you take care of them properly. You can't just stick them in the ground. You have to nurture them a bit," said state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna.

If you take the state up on its offer, here are some tips to remember:

  • Plant seedlings promptly to ensure they take root and thrive.
  • Be mindful of the planting site’s surroundings by avoiding overhead utility lines and proximity to structures in case of storms and consider the size of the tree when fully grown.
  • Moisten roots before planting.
  • Dig a hole two to three times larger than the roots when spread apart. Do not plant roots too deep or shallow.
  • Add loose soil gently, then add more soil and pack down firmly. Add water to firm the soil if necessary.
  • Place wood-chip mulch around the base of the seedling.
  • Water the seedling regularly but do not over-water, as this can cause roots to rot.

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