There is an old Chinese proverb that asks: When is the best time to plant a tree?
We’ll get to the old Chinese answer soon, but first let’s look at the answer that most Jews would give.
When is the best time to plant a tree? Tu Bishvat, of course!
AKA the Jewish New Year for the Trees. The one time of year when all over Israel, schoolchildren, politicians and lovers of the Land, suddenly gets an urge to haphazardly plonk a sapling in the ground.
Many people associate Tu Bishvat with tree planting. However, I have news. There is no horticultural or religious basis for this idea. There is nothing in either Jewish tradition or the agricultural calendar that links tree planting with the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat.
Horticulturally speaking, the ideal time to plant most trees in Israel is in the months surrounding the first winter rains – October-December.
The long Israeli summers are burning hot and bone dry, and that’s hard on newly planted saplings. Therefore, we want to give them a maximum chance to adjust to their new environment and develop their root system during the cool, wet months. (The exception would be a tropical tree that is intolerant of cold.)
Jewishly speaking, there is no season that is associated with tree planting. In terms of fruit trees, we bear in mind the advantages of planting some time before the 15th day of the month of Av. ie. six weeks before Rosh Hashana. A tree planted before that date will turn one-year-old on Rosh Hashana. That saves you a whole year in terms of the orlah count. (According to the halacha of orlah, we may not eat the fruit of a tree for the first three years after it’s planted. These laws are especially strict within the Land of Israel.)
So both Jewishly and horticulturally, Tu Bishvat is not a special time for tree planting.
Sorry to all those politicians and schoolkids ready for their once a year chance to get dirt under their fingernails.
But hold on, didn’t I promise an article about why NOW is the perfect time to plant a tree in Israel?
Because it is!
Only it’s nothing to do with Tu Bishvat.
It relates back to that proverbial Chinese question.
When is the best time to plant a tree?
Ye Olde Chinese Answer? Ten years ago.
Those Ancient Chinese were funny, right? This a joke with a bite.
Because it’s true, yet none of us has the capacity now to plant a tree ten years ago.
So let me give my answer to this question. I believe it’s the authentic Jewish answer.
When is the best time to plant a tree?
Now is the perfect time, because I have news for you.
The next ten years is going to pass in a flash. If you’re over the age of 30, you know this to be true.
Before you know it, it’s going to be Tu Bishvat 2031.Imagine that.
None of us know what will have changed in our lives ten years hence. It’s hard to picture.
Especially these days, when the world feels scary and uncertain.
Whatever the future may hold, won’t you be glad if it also features a gorgeous mature tree you planted back in 2021?
Think of the benefits that you brought into your environment: fresh air, tranquility, beauty, home for birds and wildlife, fruit and flowers.
Think of all the trees that you’ve picnicked under, or positioned in the background of your meaningful photos, or ever stopped to admire, It’s such a simple act that you can do right now that will create beauty in ten years. Not to mention 20 years from now. Even 50!
If you don’t have a yard, then you can plant in your building’s communal areas, or in a friend’s yard, or in an untended public space where you can keep an eye on it for the next year. It truly doesn’t matter where you plant.
Even when you’ve left behind the address that you currently call home, or the world that you currently call home, your tree will keep growing and keep giving back.
So do it today.
Plant a tree.
There are two more Jewish reasons why NOW is the time to plant:
1. The way the Jewish calendar works out this year Tu Bishvat is falling rather early – in January. This is somewhat unusual, but it means that the winter is in full swing and the burning summer is still a good few months off. So, really this Tu Bishvat is a GREAT time to plant a tree.
2. Jewishly speaking, next year is Shmitta. During that year, all tree planting in Israel is forbidden according to Jewish law (along with most other activities that work the land). So if you don’t plant now, then there won’t be another ideal time to plant for another TWO years.
As an urban farmer and fruit tree lover, I’ve planted saplings at every time of year, even at the height of summer when you’re not supposed to. They needed extra tender-loving care at first, but most of my little trees have made it.
So whether you’re reading this around Tu Bishvat or not, this message is for you:
Forget the Old Chinese Proverb.
The perfect time to plant a tree in Israel is NOW.
My name is Naomi and this is my tiny little farm in the heart of the rapidly growing city of Beit Shemesh, Israel. I enjoy growing, making and processing as much of my families own food and household essentials as possible, while nurturing a biodiverse ecosystem filled with beauty and life.