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. You may plant a tree in a planting strip or right-of-way if you have a permit from the Seattle Department of Transportation's (SDOT) Arborist Office. After you receive the permit to plant, you will be responsible for properly planting and maintaining the tree. This 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 a tree in the right-of-way, 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 you to obtain a free street tree permit before you plant.
Street trees must be planted to the following standards:
- 3 ½ feet back from the face of the curb
- 5 feet from underground utility 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
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.
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 planting spot falls within these lines (the right-of-way), you must obtain a street tree permit from SDOT before planting.
How do I get a street tree permit?
To obtain a street tree permit, contact SDOT at 206-684-TREE (8733). Or visit SDOT's website to fill out the urban forestry permit application. When selecting your tree species, use SDOT’s street tree list as a guide for your selection.
Remember to Call Before You Dig before the SDOT Arborist arrives for an inspection!
What do I do if there are overhead power lines?
If there are overhead power lines in your planting strip, you must plant a smaller tree species. Trees planted under power lines must be less than 25 feet at maturity to avoid interference with the lines. For a list of appropriate for planting under power lines and along city streets, see SDOT’s list of small trees.
How do I avoid hitting an underground utility line when I dig my planting hole?
Not only is it within your interest to contact the Utilities Underground Location Center before you plant a tree, it’s also 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.
I have a tree I want to replace in my planting strip. What do I do?
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 citation, and additional penalties may apply. For more information on street tree permitting,
visit SDOT's website or call 206-684-TREE (8733).
SDOT Street Tree Manual
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
Tree Companies with an Annual SDOT Permit
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.