I think I can safely assume that if you signed up for this newsletter, you like trees. Today’s task is to plant one. You might decide to do the digging yourself or to ask your city to plant a free tree on your parkway (depending on availability in your city) or to help increase the tree canopy in your area or in another country.
Just some of the benefits of trees:
Pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere
Filter water and absorb stormwater runoff
Provide habitat for wildlife
Cool cities by up to 10°F
Conserve energy by warming buildings in winter and cooling them in summer
Increase property values
Improve mental health and cognitive function
Trees also save lives
Lower-income areas typically have a much smaller tree canopy than higher-income areas. In Los Angeles, for example, according to Pew, 19 percent of the city’s tree canopy covers a mere 1 percent of the city—the wealthiest neighborhoods. The lack of trees isn’t merely an aesthetic problem (although that is a problem as well).
The data shows that Latinos and African Americans have a higher likelihood of dying after five days of extreme heat, and that’s an injustice.
— Cindy Montañez, CEO of Tree People, a nonprofit that plants trees and provides education
By 2028, LA plans to have increased its tree canopy in underserved neighborhoods by 50 percent. Last year, it aimed to plant 90,000 trees.
The rest of the country similarly needs to roll up its sleeves. According to the nonprofit conservation organization, American Forests, to reach tree equity in the US—the point at which cities have enough trees that everyone experiences their benefits—requires us to plant and grow 522 million trees. (You can help American Forests plant trees by donating here.)
The Arbor Day Foundation also plants trees—nearly 500 million of them in 50 countries over the last 50 years. When you join here, you can choose 10 free trees for yourself or you can choose to have 10 trees planted where they are most needed.
Use apps, plant trees
Plant yourself at your desk with Forest—and plant (a few) trees
I should spend my time writing this newsletter rather than scrolling on my phone but scrolling happens. I’ve used the app Forest for a few years and it helps. (I just need to remember to open it and use it!)
After you set Forest to run for a set time, a sapling begins to grow. If you use the phone while the tree grows, it withers into a lifeless stump. Seeing that dead tree makes me sad. So, I avoid using my phone while Forest counts down my time.
The app company also plants a limited number of real trees per user—a maximum of five—after the user has logged a certain number of focused hours. Working with Trees for Life, the company has arranged for the planting of nearly 1,250,000 real trees.
Choose Ecosia as your search engine
Ad revenue from Ecosia, a not-for-profit search engine, funds tree planting in over 30 countries around the world. Ecosia plants native species—not monocultures—to help restore biodiversity. The transparent company issues its monthly revenue reports online, showing revenues, where the company spends money and the number of trees it has planted. The certified B-corp uses solar power to run all of its searches (it generates 200 percent of the energy it needs) and has planted over 141 million trees so far.
Where to get free trees for your home
Many of the free tree programs I found also listed ways to help increase the local canopy, either through direct, get-your-hands-dirty planting or donations to ensure more residents can get free trees.
After spending some time searching for cities that provide free trees, I found so many, I had to stop. I couldn’t possibly search them all. So if you don’t see your city on the list below, you can likely find it by searching the terms “free trees [your city].” Make it your first Ecosia search if you’ve just switched now!
Some of the cities below provide free trees that residents plant themselves on their properties. Other cities, upon request, will plant street trees on residents’ parkways outside their homes. (And a couple do both.)
Austin, TX: TreeFolks
Chicago, IL: Streets and Sanitation and Restore the Canopy
Denver, CO: The Park People
Fort Worth, TX: Foresty Department
Los Angeles, CA: City Plants
Miami, FL: Adopt-a-Tree
New York, NY: Parks and Recreation
Philadelphia, PA: TreePhilly for street trees or for yard trees
Portland, OR: Portland.gov
San Diego, CA: The City of San Diego
San Francisco, CA: Friends of the Urban Forest
San Jose, CA: Our City Forest
Seattle, WA: Trees for Seattle
St. Louis, MO: Project CommuniTree
Vancouver, WA: Yard Tree Giveaway Program
In Montreal West, Toronto and Vancouver, you can contact the city to request having a tree planted in the strip between the road and your property. This seems to be the norm in Canada. Even the small town I grew up in offers this service.
Montreal West provides street trees. Greater Montreal also provides yard trees to residents at a discount.
Toronto provides street tree planting. Go here to get involved with reaching Toronto’s canopy target of 40 percent.
If you can’t find free trees, consider applying for a grant for your city through Tree Canada.
More sources of free trees
Join the Arbor Day Foundation. As I mentioned earlier, you can ask for 10 free trees when you join. Or you can instead choose to have 10 trees planted in a forest where they are most needed.
Transplant trees babies you find in your yard. If you find your tree’s wayward child in your yard, transplant it to a location where you would like to (eventually) have a tree. You’ll know it’s native! Unless it’s an invasive species… Do not transplant tree of paradise (aka tree of heaven, but tree of hell would be more accurate), mimosa, Norway maple or black locust.
Ask your neighbors for cuttings. I received a peach sapling in November at a garden share at my community garden. A squirrel must have planted the fig tree in the yard when I wasn’t looking. We also have an avocado sapling growing in the yard that we unintentionally grew from a pit. Facebook Buy Nothing groups and Nextdoor can be good sources of free trees and plants (and just about anything else.) Go here for tricks to make a tree branch grow.
If you know of other sources of free trees or organizations that do great work planting trees where they are most needed, please leave a comment below
I know it’s not a tree, but a friend gave me some Rose of Sharon (hibiscus) saplings which I have planted around my small rented property. Not only are they pretty, but they attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. Fortunately, our neighborhood and the city of Mississauga in general, is well treed. There is, obviously, always room for more, but I think we’re doing well.
Most winters when there has been rain, I end up with so many live oak seedlings in my street garden, because of course I swept all the fallen leaves in the street, along with acorns from across the street, into my garden. There is no room for an oak tree in my strip, so I must have pulled up 40 trees last year! I had no idea where to gift them. This year, I may put some in pots, and see if anyone has a place to plant them! Occasionally I get ginkgo trees as well, and most of those I have saved and given away. I also often have Bay trees come up in my backyard. They all know I am a tree lover!