What's a Street Tree?
In Seattle, street trees are regulated by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). A street tree is planted in the public right-of-way, usually in the planting strip (space between sidewalk and road) or in the absence of sidewalks, in the space approximately 10 feet from the curb or roadside. If the greenspace adjacent to your property is an unimproved right of way (an area originally set aside for alleys, streets, or paths that has not been developed), then a tree planted there would be considered a street tree. Trees in greenspaces owned by Seattle Parks and Recreation are not considered street trees.
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.
Planting your tree in the fall gives it the best chance for survival. Allow time to evaluate your site, select the right tree for the space, and complete the permit process. Start planning in spring to be ready to plant in fall.
Identify Your Street Tree Planting Site
First look for overhead power lines. Sites with overhead power lines need a tree that will grow to less than 25 feet at maturity. Measure the width of your planting strip - it needs to be at least 4 feet wide to plant a tree. [If your planting strip is less than 4 feet wide, you can still garden in your planting strip as long as vegetation is less than 30 inches tall.]
Your tree selection depends completely on the width of your planting strip. Finally, evaluate the surrounding infrastruture in the area and choose a planting site that is a safe distance away.
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)
See the tree selection page for information on choosing the right kind of tree for your spot.
Concrete Removal. If you are planning to remove concrete / pavement, that work must be coordinated with the Department of Transportation. Call 206-684-TREE for more information.
Getting a Planting Permit Directly Through SDOT
Apply for a Free Planting Permit. Contact SDOT at (206) 684-TREE, email Seattle.Trees@Seattle.gov or visit SDOT's website to fill out the urban forestry permit application (Permit Use Code 1A) and send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Locate Underground Utilities (Call 811). The law requires you to locate underground utilities by calling 811 or submitting an online dig ticket prior to planting your tree. Visibly mark your proposed planting location in white paint and then call 811 to submit your dig ticket. Call 811 before an SDOT arborist arrives for the 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.
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 other structures. Not all locations are suitable for a tree. If your street tree permit is denied, SDOT will inform you of their permitting decision.
Plant & 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, pruning, and protecting your tree from mechanical damage.
Planting Street Trees Through Trees for Neighborhoods
When you apply for free street trees though Trees for Neighborhoods, we will take care of the details and keep you informed of the process as it proceeds.
- Street trees application Trees for Neighborhood applications open annually in July. Be sure to choose the street tree option. Provide some notes about where you would like to plant the tree, e.g. “I would like to plant the yellowwood along 49th Ave on the north side of the driveway”.
- Underground utilities marking Trees for Neighborhoods will mark underground utilities in your planting strip. An SDOT arborist will return to your site in September and use these utility markings to select approved planting locations. Approved locations will be marked with a sign - please leave these signs where they are! You do not need to be present for these visits.
- Permit notifications Trees for Neighborhoods will contact all applicants with permitting decisions between mid-September and early October. An approved planting permit is necessary to receive a street tree from us.
Not all street tree permits are approved. The SDOT arborists may deny your permit for a number of reasons, including proximity to utility lines, street lights, and street intersections.
- Call Before You Dig Washington State law requires you to call 811 two days prior to digging the planting hole for your site. Note- By the terms of your permit, you must plant the tree in the same location as the stake.
Street Tree Removal/Replacement
You must receive a permit from SDOT before removing any street tree. If you are planning to replant an existing tree through Trees for Neighborhoods, the existing tree must be removed first. Trees for Neighborhoods will not get a removal permit for you. According to SMC 15.43.030 C, a street tree can only 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.
If SDOT determines your tree meets these criteria, a removal notice will be posted on the tree for 10 days to allow for public notification. A removal permit will be issued following the public notification period. Removing a street tree without a permit can result in a $500 citation, and additional penalties may apply.
For more information on applying for a removal permit visit SDOT’s website at www.seattle.gov/transportation/treeplantapp.htm or call 206-684-TREE (8733).
Links & Resources
SDOT's Street Tree Manual
Urban Forestry Story Map
Registered Tree Service Providers