Tree Selection

Trees in a nursery

Right Tree, Right Place

A well placed tree can help conserve energy, provide a visual screen, and provide years of beauty. However, a tree placed in the wrong place can be harmful and potentially expensive! The small tree you plant today will someday grow tall and its roots may be as expansive as the tree's branches. Make sure you select a location with adequate room to grow above and below ground.

Evaluate the planting site

Take time to evaluate potential planting sites on your property. The survival and health of a tree depends on how well suited it is to the site. Before choosing your site, consider:

  • Available planting space
  • Overhead and underground utilities
  • Surrounding trees & structures (e.g. your house, driveway, and utility poles)
  • Light (e.g. full sun, part sun, shade?)
  • Surrounding human activity
  • Soils

Reason for planting

Are you planting to shade your house in the summer or to create habitat for birds? Or are you looking to provide some seasonal interest or frame your view? Select the appropriate tree to help you achieve your goal.

Tree size at maturity

The larger your tree is, the greater the benefits it can provide. However, before you plant a large tree you should be sure you have enough space for it. Trees planted under power lines should be less than 25’ tall at maturity. If you are planting trees through the Trees for Neighborhoods program, read this year's tree descriptions carefully and envision what the tree will look like in 30+ years before making your selections.


In addition to powerlines, trees should be planted at least 5 ft. from underground utility lines, 10 ft. from power poles, 20 ft. from street lights or other trees, and 30 ft. from a corner curb. To locate your underground utilities, be sure to call 811 to submit a dig ticket at least two days before you plan to dig.

Do not plant a tall tree under overhead power lines! Trees planted under power lines should reach a maximum of approximate 25 feet. If your planting site has overhead power lines, please select a tree from the "under power lines" list (i.e. cascara, Chinese fringe tree, Eastern redbud, and American smoke tree).

Evergreen or deciduous

Evergreen trees, which hold their leaves year-round, trap far more stormwater runoff than do deciduous trees, helping keep our waterways clean. Evergreen trees also add year-round interest to your yard. When it's appropriate, consider planting an evergreen tree.

Tree form/shape

Small, spreading trees that are multi-stemmed require regular pruning when planted near a sidewalk or road, however work well in yard spaces. Upright trees can be better trained to grow over pedestrian and road traffic.

Summer growing conditions

Does your site need a tree that can handle drought or flooding? You should also consider how much sun your new tree will receive in its new spot. If your planting location is shady, be sure to plant a tree that will grow in part or full shade.


Poor soil is a problem in urban areas and often limits the success and health of trees. Compacted soil and soils with high clay content can have poor drainage, which lowers the oxygen and can lead to standing water. If you are concerned about your site's drainage, dig a 1 foot deep hole and fill it with water. If it hasn't drained within an hour or two, your site has poor drainage and it is very important that you select a tree that can handle staying wet during the winter months, such as a bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) or black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). Click here for more on soil.

Street tree permits

If your new tree will be in the planting strip or right of way, you need to apply for a free permit from SDOT. You can obtain a permit by calling (206) 684-TREE or clicking here. SDOT will not permit trees in planting strips less than 4' wide. If you want help with the permitting process, consider participating in Trees for Neighborhoods.

Non-invasive species

Select tree species without invasive tendencies in our region. Avoid English laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), English holly (Ilex aquifolium), European hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), and tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). These trees are known to spread into Seattle's parks and open spaces and compete with native species.

Native trees are great, but ornamental trees are also appropriate as long as they are not invasive. Some non-native tree species and cultivars are actually more adaptable to Seattle's urban environment and require less care than native species. If you're confused about the difference between native, non-native, and invasive trees, check out this great overview from the Oregon Department of Forestry.


Consider the future maintenance requirements of a given tree. All young trees need to be watered during summer through establishment, or roughly the first 3-5 years. Fruit trees are great, but only plant if you're willing to pick up dropped fruit and leaves each fall.

Plant A Large Tree!

We love large trees! Not only do large trees become treasured neighborhood assets, but research has shown that large trees provide our cities with the most benefits. They provide higher quality habitat for birds and other wildlife and they have larger root systems to help stabilize hillsides and prevent erosion. Large trees do more to buffer weather conditions, providing shade on hot days to reduce the need for air conditioning, and blocking winter winds to help save on heating bills. Studies have also shown that large trees even increase residential and commercial property values!

Large evergreen trees, especially conifers, are even better. Because large conifers grow so tall in our region, they produce a larger volume of leaf area on a smaller footprint – using the same amount of yard space but working harder to take in carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and filter out air pollutants. And because evergreens hold their needles and leaves through the winter, our rainy season, they reduce stormwater runoff to a much greater extent than do small deciduous trees.

If you have the space in your yard or planting strip (away from overhead power lines), consider making a long-term investment in your neighborhood by planting a tree that will give back for decades!

Watch a video presentation of our Right Tree, Right Place class to learn about site selection for trees

Tree Selection Resources

Demystifying the Art of Tree Selection

Choosing the Right Tree when Planting Under or Near Power Lines

Great Plant Picks 

SDOT's Street Tree Guidance Tool 

King County Native Plant Guide

City Fruit's Guide to Best Fruits in Western Washington

Conifer database


Email or call (206) 684-3979