Frequently Asked Questions
Tree species questions
Street tree and utility questions
Tree Pickup questions
Planting and follow-up care questions
Q: Why does the City of Seattle provide free trees to residents?
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 28% (learn more about our current canopy cover here). 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 are your trees only available in the fall?
A: 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: When does the application open and how do I apply?
A: Applications open in July each year and remain open for about 6 weeks. Once open, applications will be available on the main Trees for Neighborhoods page. Please review the information on our website and consider the space you have in your yard and in your planting strip before submitting your application.
Q: How does the lottery work?
A: All applications received during the lottery period will be assigned a random number once the application closes. Trees for Seattle staff will process applications sequentially by random number. An entire application order will be processed at once, however only trees still available will be marked as "Approved". Trees will be distributed until sold out. Once a species is sold out, requests will be added to a waitlist in the same sequential order and marked on the applicaiton as "Waitlist". As trees become available for the waitlist, they will be distributed in order of the position on the waitlist.
Q: Can I submit more than one application to improve my chances?
A: No, please submit only one application per household. We will only process the first application we receive from your address. Since Trees for Seattle will process the entire application at once, it does not benefit the applicant to submit more than one. If you submit your application and would like to make a change before the application closing date, please contact us and we will make that change on your behalf.
Q: Can I still apply for trees if I rent my house?
A: Yes! However, you should get permission from the homeowner before you apply for trees through our program. Consider who will take care of the trees (i.e. pruning and watering) during the tree’s crucial establishment years (1 -5 years after planting).
Q: Is there a limit on the number of trees I can receive through Trees for Neighborhoods?
A: Yes. You can apply for up to 4 trees per year per address for a lifetime total of 6 trees per address. We set this limit to make sure a greater number of Seattle residents have an opportunity to participate in the program.
Q: What happens if I am placed on a waitlist for a tree?
A. If you request a tree that we are sold out of, we will notify you that you’ve been placed on a waitlist. If you would like to request an available species rather than stay on the waitlist, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your new request and we will update your application to reflect the change.
If you choose to remain on the waitlist and a tree becomes available for you, we will notify you by email as soon as possible. Most trees given to people on the waitlist become available in the fall after the first workshop, as participants release their trees for a variety of reasons.
Q: Is there help available if I’m physically unable to pick up and plant a tree?
A: Yes. We can help participants who are physically unable to plant a tree themselves. We are only able to plant permitted and approved street trees and are not able to help plant trees within a yard. Because young trees need a great deal of care and because we are unable to provide long-term maintenance for all of our trees, it is critical that you or someone you know can water the tree for at least the first 3 summers after it is planted. Please give us a call at (206) 684-3979 or email us at TreesForNeighborhoods@Seattle.gov to inquire about tree planting assistance.
Q. What if I applied for a tree and don’t want it anymore?
A: Not a problem, just let us know ASAP so we can find the tree a new home! Email us at email@example.com and let us know that you are releasing your tree so we can give it to someone on the waitlist.
Tree Species Questions
Q: How do you choose what species are included?
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. 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, and usually more. 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 species of trees known to be invasive in our region.
Q: Why don’t you offer fruit trees?
A: Fruit trees are amazing, and occasionally we have offered them. However, our goal is to increase healthy tree canopy in Seattle. Fruit trees do not get us very far towards that goal as they are most often dwarf or pruned small in an attempt to control size to more easily reach fruit. Our focus is on increasing the number of large and evergreen trees in Seattle, as these are the trees that do the most to improve air and water quality. Another concern with fruit trees is that they tend to have more insect and disease problems than other trees. By Washington State law, homeowners are required to control insect pests in trees on their property. We strive to provide trees that are least likely to have insect and disease problems. Controlling pests in fruit trees is labor and time consuming work. In addition, Washington State University Extension points out that if pests are not carefully controlled in backyard fruit trees our commercial orchards, which feed most people, are threatened. Once mature, fruit trees create an abundance of fruit, often beyond what one family can eat. If you find yourself in that situation, don’t let the food go to waste! Our partners at City Fruit can help harvest that fruit and put it to good use.
Q: Can I request a tree that’s not on your planting list?
A: No. In order for the project 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 project 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.
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.
Street Trees and Utilities Questions
Q: Do I need 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 by Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) arborists. Their decision depends on many factors including the width of the planting strip, proximity to other trees, distance from the planting site to intersections and driveways, and the presence of underground utilities.
Q: How do I know if my planting spot is in the right-of-way?
A: If you don't know where the right-of-way is on your property, you can use this tool. Enter your address and check the box for the “parcels” and “pavement edge” layers. If your proposed tree planting spot falls within these lines (the right-of-way), you must obtain a street tree permit from SDOT before planting.
Q: Can I plant in the greenspace adjacent to my home?
A: If that greenspace is an unimproved right of way (an area originally set aside for alleys, streets, or paths that has not been developed) and not Seattle Parks and Recreation property, then you could plant there as long as you get a permit from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). When you participate in Trees for Neighborhoods, we will apply for this permit for you. Select the street tree option on your application.
Q: How do I get a permit for a street tree?
A: We will help you! Be sure to indicate that you plan to plant your tree along the street. We will begin the street tree permitting process on your behalf.
- Mark your street trees on your application. All street tree applications must be submitted by August 24th. Provide some notes about where you would like to plant the tree, e.g. “I would like to plant the Chinese Pistache along 49th Ave on the north side of the driveway”.
- Obtain a permit. In early September, we will initiate a Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) permit on your behalf. Note- Not all street tree applicants will be permitted as many trees will have long waitlists.
- Mark underground utilities. Trees for Seattle will contact Washington 811 to mark underground utilities in your planting strip. An SDOT arborist will return to your site in September and make a decision about your street tree planting request. The arborist may drive one or more stakes in possible planting locations—please leave these stakes where they are! You do not need to be present for these visits.
- Permit notifications. In late September, SDOT will send us all of their street tree decisions and Trees for Seattle will contact all applicants with permitting decisions in early October. An approved planting permit is necessary to receive a street tree from us.
Not all street tree permits are approved. The Seattle Department of Transportation’s arborists may deny your permit for a number of reasons, including proximity to utility lines, street lights, and street intersections.
- CALL BEFORE YOU DIG! The week before attending the planting workshop, you are responsible for contacting Washington 811 and submitting a ticket to dig your planting hole in the designated location. We will provide you a specialized web link for submitting this dig ticket. If you prefer to do it over the phone, call 811. Note- By the terms of your permit, you must plant the tree in the same location as the stake.
Q: How do I avoid hitting an underground utility line when I dig my planting hole?
A: Not only is it within your interest to contact the Utilities Underground Location Center before you plant a tree, it’s the law. Before you plant your tree, call 1-800-424-5555 (or 811) at least 2 days before you plan to dig. Visibly mark your proposed planting location in white before the utility companies arrive. Utility companies will mark the location of your water, electric, and gas lines.
You should also know where your side sewer line is located before digging your planting hole. You can find a map of your property and the location of your side sewer line here. Plant your tree at least 10 feet away from your sewer line.
Q. Why does SDOT deny street tree planting permits?
A: SDOT will deny a street tree planting permit if it does not meet their standard criteria. Trees must be planted to the following specifications:
- 5’ from underground utility lines
- 10’ from power poles,
- 20’ from street lights or other trees
- 30’ from a corner curb.
In addition, your planting strip must be wide enough to accommodate the species you select. Trees planted under power lines must be less than 25’ at maturity. SDOT will also consider the proximity of other trees in the area, make sure new trees are planted far enough apart that they have room to grow, and make sure they are not too close to structures like driveways.
Not all locations are suitable for a tree. If your street tree permit is denied, we may be able to work with you to select a more appropriate tree for your planting strip (depending on species availability). You are allowed to apply for up to 4 trees, so consider all of the available planting locations around your property before completing your application.
Q: Can I plant a tree under power lines?
A: Yes, as long as it is approved for planting under power lines. Trees approved for planting under power lines reach a mature height of about 25 feet tall. Trees for Neighborhoods offers at least 3 species appropriate for under power lines each year, however these trees are very popular.
Q: I have a tree I want to replace in my planting strip. What do I do?
A: All street trees are protected by the Street Tree Ordinance, SMC 15.43. The process by which a street tree may be removed involves a permit application, inspection of the tree, the tree meeting specific removal criteria, and a required public notification period, before a removal permit will be issued.
SMC 15.43.030 C allows street trees to be removed if:
- It is a hazardous tree.
- It poses a public safety hazard (that cannot be corrected unless the tree is removed).
- It is in such a condition of poor health or poor vigor that removal is justified; or
- It cannot be successfully retained, due to public or private construction or development conflicts.
The time involved in the processing of a removal request may make it difficult to use the Trees for Neighborhoods program as a means to replace a tree within our designated application period. Removing a street tree without the required permit can result in a $500.00 citation, and additional penalties may apply. To apply for a removal permit, visit SDOT's website or call 206-684-TREE (8733). Once your tree is removed, you may apply for a replacement tree through Trees for Neighborhoods.
Tree Pickup Questions
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 strive to avoid this outcome. 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 participants, 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: How do I get trees from the workshop site to my home?
A: You are responsible for moving your trees from the pickup site to your home. Most trees are 6-8 feet high and in 5, 7, or 10 gallon containers. The evergreen conifers tend to be a bit smaller and usually are between 3-5 feet tall at pickup. We will have staff on hand to help you load the trees in your vehicle, but you may need to rent or borrow a pickup truck if you have a small vehicle or are picking up numerous trees. Remember to clean out your vehicle before arriving at the workshop and that having more passengers in the car means less space for trees! You may want to consider bringing a tarp or plastic to put down under the trees to protect the interior of the car.
If you are unable to find transportation for your trees, please let us know. On a case-by-case basis, we can help deliver trees to residents who are unable to find transportation. Contact us at TreesforNeighborhoods@seattle.gov or call (206) 684-3979.
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 participants.
Q: Can I pick up trees for my neighbor?
A: We love to see neighbors working together! If you plan to plant the trees, you can pick up the trees for your neighbor. We encourage the person who plans on planting and caring for the tree to attend the workshop so tree recipients learn how to avoid deadly tree planting mistakes and how to care for their tree in the long-term.
Planting & Follow-up Care Questions
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. Learn more about how to help prepare your tree's roots for planting.
Q: One of my trees looks sick, what should I do?
A: Each summer Trees for Seattle visits all of the street trees planted through the program in the last two years to evaluate tree health. The crew leaves an evaluateion card at each house they visit to give you some tips on how to care for your trees. We do not conduct visits to yard trees because we would need permission to enter each property. Please do not hesitate to call or email us with questions or concerns about your tree. If you need a tree assessment or your tree needs some care, you should contact an ISA certified arborist.