Houses can be rebuilt. Trees not so fast. Many Jacksonville residents are grieving the loss of the lovely trees that graced the Jacksonville State University campus and adjoining neighborhoods before the March 19 tornadoes.

“We will never see Jacksonville look the same in our lifetime,” bemoaned one member of a group of experts invited to a meeting on April 17 sponsored by the Jacksonville Tree Commission.

Attendees set the date of Oct. 20 for a tree giveaway. Only residents affected in the areas of Jacksonville hit by the storms will receive trees, but the annual free tree giveaway to all Jacksonville city and other participating cities in Calhoun County will take place four months later on Arbor Day. Trees will be available to all residents at that time.

Attendees also discussed plans to decide the most effective ways to help residents replant.

Now is not the time to plant bushes and trees, experts have repeatedly said in print and directly to residents. Planting this fall will ensure that young trees have a better chance to survive.

The time span between now and October is allowing concerned citizens the time to raise funds, store donated plants, and prepare to distribute the trees.

Truman Norred and Richard Lindblom, members of the Jacksonville Tree Commission, directed the meeting. Master Gardener and Jacksonville resident Sherry Blanton, spoke. She stressed the fact that, during the Oct. 20 giveaway, residents must show proof of their address. She added that the mental health counselors may also be on hand because “people coming to get a tree can get a little comfort too.”

“This is great what you are doing,” Mayor Johnny Smith said to the group. “The project will allow the people who are suffering to look around and see that people are trying to help them.”

The work to re-tree began shortly after the storm. The local beautification board donated $1,000 to purchase about 500 trees. Miller Sand & Landscaping donated eight tons of potting soil. Individual members of the commission and Master Gardeners have donated or pledged hundreds of dollars to purchase the materials needed to deliver and protect the saplings. Thousands more dollars are needed to purchase additional trees closer to the fall.

“This is the most touching thing I’ve ever done,” Master Gardener Dick Pritchett said. He is an Ohatchee resident but has demonstrated his interest in plants and beautification through his work to create a state-of-the-art greenhouse at Cane Creek Gardens at McClellan.

Hayes Jackson, Calhoun County’s horticulturalist, listed the variety of trees included in the give-away: bald cypress, dogwood, Japanese maples, red maples, winter flowering dogwood, parrotia, meadow sequoia, and Sweetbay magnolia. None will grow into giant trees, which is advised in light of the damage caused by the aging trees that damaged so many dwellings.

Jackson had spent the morning planting hundreds of seedlings with the assistance of students from Coosa Valley Youth Services, a group that plans to help in the future. Other attendees at the meeting expressed their hope that other groups, such as sororities and fraternities, will volunteer to help with the project. Someone suggested creating a Facebook page or a database of email addresses in order to remind residents when to trim, fertilize, and water plants.

Dale Dickens, the state’s urban forestry coordinator, offered several reminders for residents. He suggested planting big trees only in high visibility areas, such as in front of the campus. Shorter trees will be safer in residential areas. He emphasized the need to educate homeowners who plant trees to avoid the young trees that experience failure to thrive. Members have already discussed distributing instructive flyers during the giveaway.

“Plant trees, don’t bury them,” Dickens said. “Preserve the trees that did not get knocked down. Don’t whack trees with weed eaters, and place a protective collar around the tree. The value of trees to a community is immense.”

Those in attendance discussed possible details of the giveaway, but exact details will take place at a future date, such as enlisting the help of volunteers to help the elderly or handicapped residents plant the trees.

Residents wishing to donate or volunteer on the re-tree project should contact Norred at 256-454-4996 or Blanton at 256-238-7444 or main checks to 603 12h Ave. NE, Jacksonville 36265.