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Trees for Neighborhoods

Trees for Neighborhoods Trees for Neighborhoods planting workshop
Frequently Asked Questions

Species 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.

Q: How do I select the best tree for my site?
A: Take time to evaluate the spots on your property where trees can fit. The survival and health of a tree depends on how well it is suited to the spot that you plant it. When selecting a tree, consider placement (is there enough space for this tree when it grows up?), light, moisture, and type of soil. Consider the height and spread of the tree at maturity.  Envision what the tree will look like in 30+ years. Larger trees provide greater benefits to your neighborhood and our environment. Large trees absorb more storm water, breathe in more carbon dioxide, and breathe out more oxygen than smaller trees.  For these reasons, the City of Seattle recommends planting larger trees whenever appropriate. If you want to plant a tree on the street, City arborists will review your tree selection to ensure you are planting the best tree for your planting strip.


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 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?
If you don't know where the right-of-way is on your property, you can use this tool from the Department of Planning and Development. 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. How do I get a permit for a street tree?
A: We will help you! Please note the following steps to ensure your permit is completed in a timely manner:

  1. On your Trees for Neighborhoods application, be sure to mark trees that you plan to plant along the street as “street trees”. All street tree applications must be submitted by September 1st.
  2. In late August/early September, we will initiate a SDOT permit on your behalf. We will contact you after we’ve submitted a permit request. Note- Not all street tree applicants will be permitted as many trees will have long waitlists.
  3. If you are contacted regarding your street tree permit, it is your responsibility to contact Call Before You Dig Washington at 811 and submit a utility locate request before the SDOT arborist arrives for an inspection.
  4. Washington State Law requires that you mark your proposed planting sites in white (flagging tape or paint) before submitting a utility locate request through 811. The utility companies will come to your site to mark the location of the buried utilities; you do not need to be present for this visit.
  5. An SDOT arborist will visit your site sometime in September to make a decision about your street tree planting request. You do not need to be home for this visit.
  6. In late September, SDOT will send us all of their street tree decisions and Seattle reLeaf will contact all applicants with permitting decisions. We will also work with applicants to resolve any issues that can be solved with species selection or tree placement.
  7. You must attend a planting care workshop to pick up your tree and are responsible for planting the tree yourself. You will be responsible for all future watering and maintenance of your new street trees.

If at any time during this process you have a question, do not hesitate to contact us. Call (206) 615-1668 or email

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.

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 to assist utility companies. Utility companies will mark the location of your water, electric, and gas lines. It is important that you do this before the City Arborist arrives for an inspection. 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

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 at least 5’ from underground utility lines, 10’ from power poles, 20’ from street lights or other trees, and 30’ from a corner curb. In addition, your planting strip must be wide enough to accommodate the species you chose (see minimum planting strip widths on the available trees list). 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 in a traffic circle or roundabout?
A: Traffic circle (or roundabout) plantings are managed by the Seattle Dept. of Transportation in order to both make sure the tree survives and that necessary sightlines are maintained for cars, bikes, and pedestrians. Generally the trees offered through the Trees for Neighborhoods program are too small at the time of planting to allow appropriate sightlines and thus discouraged. Depending on their available inventory, SDOT may have larger trees that have both a better chance of surviving in this location and allow clear sight lines at the intersection. To find out if your neighborhood traffic circle might qualify for an SDOT tree, call 206-684-TREE.

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: When does the application open and how do I apply?
A: Applications for the 2013 program will open July 31st. Applicaitons will be available on the main Trees for Neighborhoods page. Please review the information on our website (especially Things to Consider When Planting a Tree) and consider the space you have in your yard and in your planting strip before submitting your application.

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: How do I transport trees for the workshop site to my home?
A: You are responsible for transporting your trees from the pickup site to your home. Most trees are 4-6 feet high and in 5, 7, or 10 gallon container. 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. Also, you may need help to unload the trees when you get home—ask a neighbor!

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. 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 and let us know that you are releasing your tree so we can give it to someone on the waitlist. We have limited nursery space to store the trees and all trees must find a home before Thanksgiving so please let us know as soon as possible.

Q: Can I still apply for trees if I rent my house?
A: Yes! However,  you must 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 (3 -5 years after planting) if you are no longer living at the house.

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.

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: 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. Waitlist requests are added in the order applications are received. If you would like to request an available species rather than stay on the waitlist, contact us at with your new request and we will update your application to reflect the change.

If you chose 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. In 2012, 59% of the people on the waitlist were later offered a tree. After all of the trees have been picked up, we will alert everyone still on the waitlist and encourage you to try again next year!

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.







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