Trees for Neighborhoods
Frequently Asked Questions
Street tree and utility questions
Program design questions
Q: How do you choose what species to include in the program?
A: We strive to offer species that the public will be most interested in planting. However, our species selection must meet a number of guidelines, making it a logistical puzzle. We strive to provide 10-12 species to choose from. We must have trees that reach a range of sizes at maturity in order to meet the diverse needs of planting sites across the city. We need trees small enough to go under power lines and large trees that offer the greatest payback in benefits such as storm water reduction. We need a number of species that are appropriate as street trees, as about 1/4 of our trees end up in these locations. We include at least one native species and one fruit tree species. We try to find trees with features we know are popular, such as flowers. We try to include as many evergreen species as possible, as they offer the greatest benefit to storm water reduction. We never include invasive species or species that are susceptible to loss by future pests and disease, such as ash. We try to avoid species that are over-planted in Seattle, such as maple. And then given all of those considerations, we can only purchase what is available from the nursery industry with the quantity and timing we need and given the budget we have to work in.
Q: Why don’t you have more native trees?
A: We offer at least one native species every year. However, while a given species of tree may be considered native to this region that does not mean it will survive or is appropriate in the harsh urban landscape. Our native conifers need a large space, which is often not available in small residential plots, and very rarely in street tree locations. Big leaf maple trees, while beautiful in park settings, are prone to branch failure, and therefore best not planted along streets or near homes. We carefully select trees that have been shown to do well in city conditions, including pavement, compaction, and increased air pollution. These are conditions that our native trees are not necessarily well suited for. We never offer invasive species of trees.
Q: Can I request a tree that’s not on your planting list?
A: No. In order for the program to work, we secure trees from nurseries far in advance of the application opening. We cannot change that order, and can offer only what we have already purchased. You can however send us suggestions for trees you would like to see offered in the future and we will take that into consideration.
Q: Will you have x species of tree next year?
A: We rotate the species of trees we plant every year due to nursery availability and to avoid the over planting of any given species. We do not know what species will be offered in any given year until we have gone through the procurement process in the spring.
Q: Why don’t you provide shrubs / understory plants?
A: The focus of the Trees for Neighborhoods program is to build tree canopy cover in residential areas. Shrubs and understory plants, while important, do not achieve that goal and we do not have any funding to provide them. That does not mean that you should not plant them on your own where appropriate.
STREET TREE AND UTILITY QUESTIONS
Q: Do I have to have a permit to plant a street tree?
A: Yes. We will submit a permit request for you, but we cannot guarantee that it will be approved. All street tree permit requests are reviewed the Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) arborists. Their decision depends on many factors such as width of the planting strip, proximity of other trees, distance from the planting site to corners and driveways, and presence of underground utilities.
Q: Can I plant a tree under power lines?
A: Yes, as long as it is a small species. All trees under power lines must be 25’ or less at maturity. The Trees for Neighborhoods program offers a few species appropriate for under power lines every year.
Q: Why do I need to locate underground utilities before getting a street tree permit?
A: There are many utilities commonly located under planting strips that would be negatively impacted if a tree were planted too close. Water and sewer lines are of particular concern because the roots of a tree planted too close can infiltrate small cracks in the lines over time, leading to breaks in the pipes which can be very costly to repair. We also want to make sure you don’t hit a gas line. The best way to avoid planting too close to these lines is to have utilities marked out before SDOT’s arborist arrives to inspect the site.
PROGRAM DESIGN QUESTIONS
Q: Why does the City of Seattle give out free trees?
A: The environmental, social, economic, and public health benefits of healthy urban forests are well documented in the scientific community. In recognition of this, the City of Seattle has set a goal to reach 30% canopy cover by 2037, an increase from our current 23%. However, 2/3 of the land in Seattle is privately owned residential property. This means that we cannot reach our canopy cover goal without the help of residents like you! This program is the City’s way of engaging residents to plant and maintain healthy trees in their yards that will grow to provide benefits to everyone.
Q: Why do I have to go through a planting workshop?
A: Part of the reason we receive funding for this program is our emphasis on making sure the trees survive into maturity. We believe it is a waste of taxpayer money to plant trees that then die, and thus want to avoid this outcome as much as possible. Teaching program participants how to avoid common yet often deadly tree planting mistakes is one of the best ways to do this, as you are ultimately the person who will determine the future health of your tree. Every year we receive feedback from multiple people, including experienced landscapers and gardeners, who tell us that they thought they knew everything about trees yet learned something new. We respect your time and strive to keep the workshops short and to the point, and appreciate your understanding and open mindedness. Your willingness to go through the workshop helps us keep our funding.
Q: Why don’t you have pickup locations in more parts of the city? Or in a more central location?
A: We wish we could! When we originally piloted the program, we held pickup events in multiple locations throughout the city. However, doing this greatly expands our costs as it requires an enormous input of time plus the expense of crews and trucks to move hundreds of trees to multiple locations. It also increases damage to the trees, as there is a risk of damage every time a tree is moved. While we wish we could be based in a more central location, we have found that there are very few options available that meet our needs – space to securely house 1,000 trees for 2 months, indoor space to hold workshop and pickup events, and parking for program participants.
Q: Why are your trees only available in the fall?
Fall is the best time to plant a tree in Seattle. Trees planted in the fall are more likely to survive our hot, dry summer season because they are given our tree-friendly wet winter to overcome the shock of planting. Trees planted in the spring and summer often die.
Q: The trees I received were root bound! Why don’t you buy trees that are in better condition?
A: We strive to buy the highest quality trees available. However, we are restricted to what is available in the market, and it is very difficult to purchase container trees with the size, quantity, timing, and species necessary to make the program work without ending up with some that are root bound. We stress the importance of the workshops so that we can teach people how to help their trees overcome this hurdle and go on to lead a healthy life.
Q: Why is there a waitlist for some trees?
A: We can only offer a limited number of trees to stay within our budget. Some species of trees are very popular, and while we provide as many of them as possible, demand often exceeds supply. Many people on the waitlist do end up being offered a tree, as others release their trees for a variety of reasons.
Q: Why can I only receive 4 trees when I have room for more?
A: Like everyone, we have limited resources and thus can only supply a limited number of trees. To be fair and give everyone as much of a chance to participate as possible, we limit the number of trees any one household can receive in a given year.
Q: Why can I only get 1 fruit tree per household?
A: Fruit trees are the most expensive of the species we offer, and also very popular. Thus to be fair and stay within budget we have to limit the number people can receive.
Q: Why don’t you offer trees that are larger when planted?
A: We try to strike a balance between a tree that is large enough to make an immediate difference to the landscape when planted, yet small enough for the average person to carry, transport, and plant themselves.