Planting Street Trees
Street trees provide Seattle many benefits, including traffic calming and making our neighborhoods more pedestrian friendly.
Seattle’s public rights-of-way along our streets provide an excellent opportunity to add trees to our city. The City of Seattle encourages residents to plant trees along public streets, with a permit from the Seattle Department of Transportation's (SDOT) Arborist Office. Once you've been approved for a permit to plant, you will be responsible for properly planting and maintaining the tree, which includes watering during the hot summer dry season, mulching and pruning.
Planting a tree in the planting strip or right-of-way requires special consideration of underground and overhead utilities, tree species, and planting strip width. When planting street trees, we want to avoid future conflicts between trees and utility lines and also minimize any impacts to traffic along the street. This is why SDOT requires residents first obtain a free street tree planting permit before planting. The great thing about applying for a permit is that an SDOT arborist will review your tree selection and site and make recommendations, if necessary.
SDOT requires street trees be planted to the following standards:
- 3 ½ feet back from the face of the curb
- 5 feet from all underground utility lines (Call 811 to locate lines)
- 10 feet from power poles
- 7 ½ feet from driveways (10 feet recommended)
- 20 feet from street lights and other existing trees
- 30 feet from street intersections (avoid driver sightline issues)
7 Steps to Street Tree Planting
1) Locate your planting spot and confirm it's in the right-of-way. 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 planting spot falls within these lines (the right-of-way), you must obtain a street tree permit from SDOT before planting. If the planting spot is in your private yard, you do not a permit to plant.
2) Evaluate the site. Are there overhead power lines? If so, you must select a tree that is approved for planting under power lines (usually has a mature height of less than 25 feet). How wide is the planting strip? Most planting strips in Seattle are about 5 feet wide, which doesn't leave a lot of room for a tree to grow.
3) Select your tree. Use SDOT's Approved Street Tree List to select trees that will fit within your planting strip and under power lines, if applicable. If you have a wide strip with no overhead lines, you're lucky! Consider planting a large tree to maximize future benefits.
Note that fruit trees are prohibited from the planting strip because of the slipping hazard caused by fallen fruit. Additionally, bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), cottonwoods (Populus trichocarpa), and Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra) are prohibited as street trees because of their aggressive roots.
4) Apply for a planting permit. Contact SDOT at 206-684-TREE (8733) or visit SDOT's website to fill out the free urban forestry permit application (Permit Use Code 1A).
A happy young street tree!
5) Locate underground utilities. Not only is it within your interest to locate underground utilities before you plant a tree, it’s also the law. Before you plant your tree, call 811 at least 2 days before you plan to dig or submit an online dig ticket. 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 communication, water, electric, and gas lines. It is important that you do this before the City Arborist arrives for an inspection. Note: your sewer line will not be marked. Use this tool to locate your side sewer line and always plant at least 5 feet away.
6) Wait for a permitting decision. An SDOT arborist will visit your site and consider the proximity of other trees in the area, underground and overhead utilities, and make sure trees will not be too close to structures like driveways. Not all locations are suitable for a tree. If your street tree permit is denied, SDOT may be able to work with you to select a more appropriate tree for your planting strip.
7) Plant and care for your new street tree. Upon permit approval, you are ready to plant your new tree. You are responsible for all future maintenance and tree care, including watering during the hot summer dry season, mulching and pruning.
Street Tree Removal/Replacement
All street trees are protected by the Street Tree Ordinance, SMC 15.43. The process to remove a street tree 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.
Removing a street tree without the required permit can result in a $500 citation, and additional penalties may apply. For more information on street tree permitting,
visit SDOT's website or call 206-684-TREE (8733).
Links & Resources
SDOT's Street Tree Manual is an excellent resource for residents, developers, contractors, and tree service providers. This manual outlines the requirements and statndards established in the 2013 Street Tree Ordinance. For questions about this manual contact SDOT at (206) 684-TREE or Seattle.Trees@seattle.gov.
SDOT Street Tree Planting Procedures – including planting tips and appropriate species
SDOT Street Tree Planting Permit
Choosing the Right Tree when Planting Under or Near Power Lines
SDOT's Online Street Tree Map
Registered Tree Service Providers
Master Street Tree List - Includes small, medium, and large trees for the planting strip and minimum planting strip width requirements
Want help planting street trees? Consider participating in the City of Seattle's Trees for Neighborhoods project.