Jean Chretien – Quote Investigator

The Best Time To Plant a Tree Was 30 Years Ago, and the Second Best Time To Plant a Tree Is Now

George W. White? Confucius? Chinese Saying? Jean Chretien? Earl Ubell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The payoff for some actions only occurs after a lengthy delay. For example, a newly planted fruit tree requires years of growth before it can generate a bumper harvest. Also, a shade tree may require decades of maturation before it produces an extensive canopy. Yet, regrets about previous missed opportunities should not prevent immediate constructive action. Here are two versions of a popular saying:

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

The two best times to plant are tree are 30 years ago and today.

This is sometimes called a Chinese proverb, but I have not seen any solid supporting evidence. Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in “The Cleveland Plain Dealer” of Ohio in 1967. Local city councilman George W. White used the expression, but he disclaimed credit. Thus, the source was anonymous. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1967 March 19, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Negro Help for Negroes Under Way”, Quote Page 9A, Column 1, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

“Someone remarked,” White said, “that the best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago, and the second best time to plant a tree is now. That’s how it is with us.”

Thanks to linguistics researcher Barry Popik who located the above citation.

QI has found no substantive evidence that this saying is a Chinese proverb.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Best Time To Plant a Tree Was 30 Years Ago, and the Second Best Time To Plant a Tree Is Now

References

References
1 1967 March 19, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Negro Help for Negroes Under Way”, Quote Page 9A, Column 1, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)