Introduction: How to Get a Tree on Your Block in San Francisco

Picture of How to Get a Tree on Your Block in San Francisco

This is a step-by-step guide to getting a tree planted in your sidewalk in San Francisco. And no, you don't have to own your home to plant a tree. Renters are perfectly eligible too. In fact, the more people planting street trees, the better.

To get a tree planted, you can either deal with the city permitting process and actual planting and maintenance yourself, which tends to be fairly involved. Or, you can use the excellent Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF), a San Francisco non-profit that cuts through the red tape for you. This guide is for the wise people who choose the latter.

To plant a tree, you will need:
=> To live in San Francisco
=> A phone or e-mail
=> $165 (fee changes, but this is the current cost)
=> Piece of chalk
=> Food or drink to bring to the potluck
=> A willingness to water your tree weekly

Planting a tree in your neighborhood is an item on Neighbors Project'sNeighbors Checklist.

This guide was made with the help of Friends of the Urban Forest.

Step 1: Call or E-mail Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF).

Picture of Call or E-mail Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF).

To kick off the planting, you can call the FUF office at 415-561-6890, extension 101 to talk to a human or fill out the "Sign up to Plant" form on their Web site to temporarily avoid human contact.

FUF is able to make tree planting easier for the average San Franciscan by working in bulk; they move forward with actual plantings once 25 people in the neighborhood are on board. So once you let them know that you want a tree, they'll either hook you up with the neighborhood leader who is spearheading the tree planting in your neighborhood, or keep your name on file until enough people in your neighborhood are interested. If your neighborhood hasn't reached critical mass yet, you can speed up the process by advertising the opportunity to your neighbors. FUF will give you flyers to make it as easy as possible.

FUF will give you the two forms you need to fill out to get the process rolling:
1. A letter of agreement with FUF
2. The City's Department of Public Works Tree Planting" application

Step 2: Fill Out the Form and Coordinate With Other Tree-planters-to-be in Your Neighborhood.

Picture of Fill Out the Form and Coordinate With Other Tree-planters-to-be in Your Neighborhood.

If you're a renter, you'll need to get the signature of your landlord on the forms.
Once you finish your forms, send them to your neighborhood organizer.

At this point, if your neighborhood hasn't reached the 25 want-to-be tree-planters threshold, and you don't want to wait, then you'll also need to talk to your neighbors to get more people signed up. This means hanging up signs, knocking on doors and talking to people about why they might want a tree of their own. FUF, through your neighborhood organizer, will give you talking points and advice. If you have friends on the block, you should ask them to help you with this step because you probably find it daunting, like most other people.

The best approach to this is to think of it as trick-or-treating minus the costumes (in fact, be sure not to wear a costume because that's going to freak people out): You're charming people with your story about how great your block will be once you have some trees (the trick), and they're joining the effort (the treat). Just smile, make eye contact and be nice, and you'll be fine. Oh, and do your congratulatory drinking after you knock, not before.

When 25 people in your neighborhood have finished their forms, then your neighborhood leader will schedule a planting date with FUF. They're always on Saturday.

Step 3: Attend Your Neighborhood Pre-planting Meeting to Pick Your Tree and Coordinate Logistics.

Picture of Attend Your Neighborhood Pre-planting Meeting to Pick Your Tree and Coordinate Logistics.

Six weeks before your planting day, FUF will arrange a neighborhood meeting with all of the people who are set to plant. Definitely go to this meeting because it's your chance to tree shop. FUF will present some possible tree types and you get to choose what you like.

You'll also coordinate the logistics of the day, like where to store the shovels, etc. And of course who will bring what food and drink to the party after the planting.

Be prepared to pay your planting fee at that meeting. The current rate is $165, and that covers the tree, materials and labor and two years of maintenance. FUF has "Tree Buddy" money to help people with limited incomes meet this cost.

Step 4: Prep Your Sidewalk.

Picture of Prep Your Sidewalk.

A few weeks before your planting date, you will be asked to mark your desired tree location on the sidewalk with chalk. They will then have the underground service companies mark your sidewalk noting location of gas lines, water pipes, etc. This is the moment of truth because they may tell you that, sadly, you don't actually have enough room to plant or there's some other problem, like buried cables for the cable cars, that means that you can't plant. If you discover that you can't plant a tree in front of your home after all, get a beer, calm down, and then ask FUF to recommend other ways to green your street. All hope is not lost. In fact, helping your neighbors plant a tree means you still get to walk by and say, "I did that." (If you won't be planting, you'll get your money back.)

Assuming there's nothing wrong with your planting area, a contractor will come by later that week to cut the sidewalk so that you'll have a place to put the tree. They may also auger the hole, which means sticking a big drill in the concrete. Bring out your camera, set up a lawn chair and enjoy the action.

Step 5: Plant!

Picture of Plant!

It's the day you've been dreaming of: planting day. Dress for mess. You'll watch a FUF staff member demonstrate how to plant a tree and then you'll actually put the tree in your sidewalk. You can see the details of the actual planting here.

FUF will provide all of the tools and materials. But you get to do the actual planting, with help. FUF will also show you how to water and maintain your tree. Watch closely.

Step 6: Party (potluck or Pizza Party)

Picture of Party (potluck or Pizza Party)

Once your tree is firmly in the ground, you should wash your hands and kick back with your neighbors. FUF staff reports that the food at the post-planting parties tends to be fabulous. So be prepared to have a good time bragging about your tree and over eating.

Step 7: Maintain Your Tree

Picture of Maintain Your Tree

Now that you have a tree, you have to maintain it. Use FUF's Web site for tips on everything from watering to pest management.

FUF will send you postcards to remind you to water your tree when the time comes. If you're a forgetful person, you should mark your tree's birthday on your calendar as soon as possible and schedule times to water it based on FUF's watering advice. Heck, get your calendar to text or e-mail you on watering day. It's really embarrassing to kill a tree.

The FUF tree doctors will stop by your tree two and eighteen months after you planted it to do a check-up and fix anything that's out of order. You won't have to be there when they stop by, and you may not know if they came by at all. They may leave a door hanger message if they found a problem with your tree.

You can pay FUF some more to have them do tree check-ups for three or five years. And you should call them if your tree gets damaged or you need help with something tree-related.

Otherwise, enjoy your lovely tree. Show it off to your friends. Celebrate its birthdays. And marvel how nice your block looks. You'll be amazed to discover how many neighbors you meet through planting and maintaining your tree. Your block will be both greener, and more of a home.


Buttermilk (author)2016-09-30

Step one: Be a gentrifying yuppie

poldim (author)2012-11-13

Although some are concerned about the fees associated with planting or government involvement in the big bad city of SF, it should really be a non issue. Surprisingly so, its clear if you read the first sentence of substance on the SFDWP Tree Planting page (Google):   There is no fee required for a Tree Planting Permit, however, the permit is necessary to ensure that street trees do not impact infrastructure and are appropriately planted so that they thrive and become a neighborhood asset.

As I have experienced, the biggest problems arise from individual neighbors that may not let you do whatever you try to do.  The city is fairly lenient, but by allowing everyone's opinion to be as strong, you end up needing 100% agreement from anyone that knows what you plan on doing in order to not have problems.  A neighboring renter complained about the tree position and ultimately prevent someone from planting a tree on their own property. 

chotii (author)2009-07-30

I can't imagine NOT having trees in the city. For pity's sake, they absorb CO2, they clean the air, they provide shade and oxygen...enough of them can sometimes even provide a cooling effect in the overheated urban concrete microenvironment. The shade alone would be worth all the damaged sidewalks in the world, to me.

On my .15 acre property here in Washington state, I have 18 trees: cedar (3), fir (6), pine (1), maple (1) flowering dogwood (3), Himalayan birch (1), hazelnut (1), and Asian Pear (2). I'm intending to plant some dwarf cherry trees, too. I can't imagine removing them all, or *any* of them, unless they become destructive.

kelcylane (author)chotii2012-04-29

...I'm just gonna say...Pity's sake? ..I might be wrong or it might just be the way people talk here...but I thought it was Pete's sake...


seandogue (author)chotii2009-08-10

Lol, I have to periodically remove the volunteers that pop up in my yard. right now I have about 2 dozen 1-1/.2 foot tall oaks (four varieties), dozens and dozens of Maples (mainly Norwegian), butternut, Pignut hickory, wild cherry, Hawthorn, and wild apricot to remove before this fall is over...(I got lazy the last two years). Seriously, all in all, about 50 saplings, some 1 to 1-/2 foot, some as tall as 7 feet. And the yard is only 60x90. Grnated, I also have a 100foot tall white oak on one side of the house and a 100 foot tall Pignut hickory on the other side, along with a 70 year old Mulberry and three of it's 35 year old kids, a mature chiense Apricot planted back in the 70s, and the reminents of an old apple tree...

sensoryhouse (author)2008-03-06

What happens in 10-20 years when the tree's roots start to destroy the sidewalk and road around it? Does anyone think past the pizza party? Who pays to fix the damage?

It's incredible the leak of conscience of the people who still think it's the environment that has to adapt to us and not us the ones who should be learning to live in balance with Earth. Complete nonsense even after the pizza party. I hope you enjoy your concrete town.

Ghost Wolf (author)sensoryhouse2011-01-20

Don't forget the tree would be depressed because the body of former trees keep it upright (Wooden stakes)

darkmuskrat (author)sensoryhouse2008-03-06

Theres trees roots that grow almost strait down so plant one of those, or chop it down after that time

sensoryhouse (author)darkmuskrat2008-03-06

Viable option but I bet neither will happen. And who chops it down and removes the stump? And again, who pays for it? I am guessing it's the California tax payer. Plant a tree on your own property or grown one in a pot or MOVE OUT OF THE CITY. Leave the modding of public property to the professionals. Leave the side walk for what it's meant for, WALKING. It's not an extension of your front lawn.

chilvence (author)sensoryhouse2010-02-12

Professionals? If those professionals got it right in the first place, then we would never have ended up living in hideous concrete jungles to begin with :P There is nothing worse than a city where you can't see a single trace of green, you might as well live in a prison. The only solution to that is to level the place and start again...

tincanz (author)chilvence2011-01-09

I second that!

gourd (author)sensoryhouse2010-02-12

I am going to hate-plant 50 trees in your name, sensoryhouse.
just kidding.

actually I am into guerilla wildflower seed spreading here in dallas.

Patrik (author)sensoryhouse2008-03-07

Bah humbug - these ARE the professionals! FUF employs trained, certified, professional arborists; they select trees appropriate for the location and microclimate, and get official approval from the city on where exactly to plant them. What the heck more do you want? In exchange, planting trees brings the community together, reduces the crime rate, and improves the air quality. That far outweights the occasional crack in the sidewalk (which shouldn't happen with the right tree selection and planting anyway...)

sensoryhouse (author)Patrik2008-03-08

Here in Seattle, my mother was injured (pretty severely) from the unevenness causes by cracks in the sidewalk from trees when she tripped over one. Simply taking a evening or nighttime walk can become dangerous. If the property is not yours than I can assume you will not be their for very long and someone else down the line will have to deal with any problems. If you tell me that the trees planted will not be a problem then I will take your word for it. I just hope that there is just as much thought as emotion that goes into this project. I am not trying to be an ass. I simply have seen the downsides which many of you have not and are so quick to shrug off.

seandogue (author)sensoryhouse2009-08-10

Sidewalks must be maintained. Sidewalks outside a home are the responsibility of the home owner in my town. In fact, My city is pretty stringent about maintenance of sidewalks.. And there are a lot of solutions to the problems that an older tree can present, including cutting the offending root and re slabbing or trimming the slab and resetting to narrow the sidewalk at the intersection of the tree for a real specimen. It's insane to think of cutting down a 100 year old Oak just so that a sidewalk remains 4 feet wide. Nearly as insane as not having treelawns. I do feel bad for your mom, but really, blame the person responsible, not the tree.

davea0511 (author)sensoryhouse2009-08-03

Actually I don't think they're shrugging off your comments as much as they believe the upsides outweigh the downsides, and what downsides there are have been addressed by making it an organized and educated effort ... you don't do it all by yourself ... these guys know what types of trees to plant and how to plant them to avoid those problems. That's what the $160 fee is for.

AubreeMarie (author)sensoryhouse2008-08-14

You know, there have been problems with that East Coast and west. When I lives in S.F. I was constantly stumbling from sidewalks cracked by roots, fortunatley no injuries. But in Boston, where I hail from, it's simply from age and time but some woman actually sued the city because she spent years with pain and surgeries on her foot.

darkmuskrat (author)sensoryhouse2008-03-10

I know what you mean; for instance my aunt broke her leg while running away from a dog, somewhat like how your mother was injured. But that dog was a chiwowa and really posed no threat if she would have assesed the situation. While I agree TOTALY with looking it over further, many would probably be totaly fine and just have a new tree to show from it.

ARVash (author)darkmuskrat2008-03-12

I'd hate to break it to you guys, but.. in all reality which is more neccessary? Trees or sidewalk. What affected your aunt; and your mother, were not trees, but in contrast the poorly maintained sidewalk. Cracking occurs naturally due to heating and cooling. Over here in podunk usa :P, (meaning middle of nowhere) we have many trees planted around our sidewalks and have for over 200 years. They have yet to propose a serious endangerment to society... .___.

uksam88 (author)ARVash2008-06-21

A recent study in england have proved a well maintained pavement with a tree poses more of a risk of one without a tree and not maintained at all. The roots crush pipes be it sewer or gas. Explosions due to gas leaks are not uncommon, and majority of the time caused by roots. When your road is next getting dug up its probably due to damage roots.

Arvash you say cracking is inevitable, it is indeed, but cracks which protrude into the air are usually caused by roots are not inevitable. Thousands of houses and roads each year suffer extreme structural damage due to roots.

"They have yet to propose a serious endangerment to society... ._. "

So a partially blind person who can't see the tree in a poor lit street walks into a tree, falls over and cracks a rib. First of all its extremely painful and second of all extortionately high hospital bills (unless you dont have the excellent NHS).

Great instructable, always good to have trees in urban areas provided they are rooted straight down.

ARVash (author)uksam882008-06-22

I live in the"country" so perhaps I'm a little biased. All our sidewalks are cracked and rootcovered. In fact some of them purposefully so. We have a wide population of elderly and partially blind; but they've done a pretty good job of missing the trees. I suppose my point is, trees will be trees ;p. They aren't a problem down here, but perhaps your trees are more malicious over in CA.

dobbybabee (author)sensoryhouse2008-06-11

Dude, love the sarcasm. It's great really. Keep on bringing laughter.

seandogue (author)sensoryhouse2009-08-10

Acrtually bud, before the treelawns were all plastered over by folks like you with lovely concrete, they were what they were called...TREE lawns.

emac (author)sensoryhouse2008-03-19

not nice... you should love trees there your lively hood

drips (author)sensoryhouse2008-03-08

sensoryhouse, why do you hate trees so? On my block in the Inner Sunset we have a lovely magnolia tree that infuses those rare warm San Francisco nights with it's sweet perfume. There are also some gorgeous flowering cherry(?) trees that broke bud about a week ago and exploded into beautiful pink bursts. This Instructable is a great example of citizens working with the government to benefit the city and its residents. And it's all on the up-and-up and handled professionally. Anyway, in SF you should have bigger gripes than this. Awesome Instructable!

tincanz (author)sensoryhouse2011-01-09

Trees were in existence before humans. Therefore, a tree has more rights to land than humans. Why not give it that land?

Anyway, trees are beautiful, especially big ones; there is no reason to object to a tree's roots pushing up a sidewalk, because it can still be walked on.

Finally, if it is a fruit tree, it even provides delicious food to those who take the time to pick it. With all of these things considered, tree planting is great.

Ghost Wolf (author)2010-12-20

KILL IT KILL IT whack that tree with wait upon closer inspection she is putting wooden stakes (former trees) to support the tree. I wish they made recycled supports

afridave (author)2010-10-25

165 bucks for a tree thats insane, but hey i love trees the more the merrier not to mention the birds and insects an stuff that comes with them ,plant as many trees in as many places as possible is what i say.

psyoper22 (author)2010-10-06

it always seems ironic when sapplings are being held up or protected by wooden slats...anyone else?

great job nonetheless...

dphc (author)2010-05-12

It's nice you care for the environment and everything, but $165 seems like a lot of money to spend on something that's not really yours to keep.  Sorry if I'm not quite with it, but I can't help thinking how many bills I could pay with $165, or how that could buy a person's meals for ~3 weeks.  But yeah, I suppose if I had more money than I knew what to do with, then I might spend it on expensive trees too ;)  In any case, I guess it's sort of interesting to see that one has to pay that much out of their own pocket for a tree in SF. 

Warlrosity (author)2010-04-23


CameronSS (author)2008-03-06

Cool! I'm glad there really are sane people put there with clout. It's truly hard for me to imagine a street without trees. Topeka is a fairly tree-filled town, and on our street, there are many trees that are at least 30-40 years old. In the summer, the overhanging branches turn the street into an awesome oxygen-producing green tunnel.

gourd (author)CameronSS2010-02-12

dallas has a ~150 yr old pecan tree that is protected by the city. there are a lot of old trees like that but once they get so big, the storms around here rip them down.

whatsisface (author)CameronSS2008-03-07

We have trees in ours that are about 80 years old :-)

komecake (author)2010-01-16

  I think it's a great idea. All of these people are arguing about how the trees will cause problems, but without trees we wouldn't even be here. They are vital to our survival. Yes, they might cause problems, but NOTHING lasts 1000 years without having to do some maintenance. 

 People spend thousands of dollars of computers and television, house and cars. All of these things require maintenance and they only last so long before they need "updates" or stop having problems. People just want the luxury of having things like cars and computers and being able to walk in and buy it. If you plant a tree and the roots hit a pipe, WHY is it a big deal to pay your tax dollars to fix it??? You'd rather have the computer that cost $200 more, or the tree that is providing a nicer, cleaner environment for you to live in?

 People need to think for a minute... really.

seandogue (author)2009-08-10

You need $165 to plant a tree in San Fransicso? I'm still trying to remove the look of disbelief from my face...It just won't go away. My mom told me this might happen some day... oh gawd, now my head is swaying back and forth too...will it never stop?

Royal Explainer (author)2009-04-23

It's ironic that you are nailing boards into trees on Eath Day...

she's not nailing a board onto the tree; she's nailing the informational plaque to the safety frame around the tree to inform passers-by and solidify the frame so in the event of strong winds or other adverse weather, the tree doesn't uproot.

davea0511 (author)petropixley2009-08-03

You're right she isn't putting a nail in a tree ... but if she was then what's the big deal? Trees are plants not animals. Putting a nail in one is no worse than pruning a branch (unless the nail weakens it enough to make it fragile). I'm all about the environment but K0JSY's comment is of the type that make environmentalist seem impractical if not completely clueless.

petropixley (author)davea05112009-08-03

not to start a debate here, but plants are sentient feeling creatures as well as animals. i would recommend reading "the secret life of plants" for more information on the background research supporting it.

davea0511 (author)petropixley2009-08-03

No debate on that issue... I agree. In fact I don't need a book to realize that. However, (and I'm guessing that book doesn't mention this) there's a huge difference between sentience and intelligence ... and I think you'll find that intelligence is what gives sentience it's meaning and value (and trees have no intelligence). That's why you shouldn't feel badly about the millions of airborne and sentient organisms that die as you inhale them each day - no great loss there. When people don't realize this they do in fact freak out over a nail in a tree, or mistakenly assume cutting down a tree is akin to murder. This is a FANTASTIC project, not because these trees will be happy - they'll live in concrete forests with a dubious future at best - not ideal conditions for a tree. Rather this project should be commended because it improves the quality of life for living things that have the intelligence to appreciate them. The astonishing lack or disregard of this fact is why many don't respect environmentalists, and is the main reason environmental efforts don't get the public support they deserve.

bcr8ve (author)2008-03-13

This is a great Instructable, but I'm really amazed that the city makes residents pay $160. I'm in NC, and even when I lived in the city you didn't have to get a permit or anything to plant trees.

davea0511 (author)bcr8ve2009-08-03

No joke.

Fildain (author)bcr8ve2009-04-23

In a sidewalk?

silver912targa (author)2008-03-08

IYears ago I also planted some trees in my street. Even without asking. Man, what a difference!! And of course as always there are people whom disagree with anything you do. Shoot them might be a bit too rough but hey sometimes I wish I could. Sorry Though be aware that roots might not only ruin your pathway (Although I like this, as it gives you a feeling that nature is still stronger then human) but also sewerpipes. And that is really annoying. Michel Portugal

leebryuk (author)2008-03-08

I never knew this existed. For the doubters, live in Europe for a while and you'll see how trees are integrated into the urban landscape. It makes it much nicer. And there are trees that do not bust concrete and other things. Sensory House: As far as taxpayers are concerned - these people are taxpayers. They wish to have a neighborhood that has more trees. This increases property value, and that raises the tax base for the city. Stop wincing over ideology and accept that the government does have a role in maintaing a city. If it makes you feel better, I'll mail you the millionth of a penny that it costs you as a citizen of California. The funds usually come out of capital improvements for the city anyways.

mothflavour2 (author)2008-03-07

Great instructable for San Francisco. I wonder if Vancouver has a program like this? It still easy to tell in North Vancouver that the mountains were covered in trees. The average suburban property will have about 2 or 3 second-growth cedars, about 100 years old. It's good to see that the simplest solutions can sometimes be the best though.

mrbob1000 (author)2008-03-06

SWEET! This makes the world look nicer and a better place to live in. I believe if i ever live in the city, i will get one of these trees.

Brennn10 (author)2008-03-06

I was wondering when you would make a new instructable! I love your work, keep it up!

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More by neighborsproject:How to Increase Produce in Your Local Corner StoreHow to Hold a Corner Store Cooking ClassHow to get a tree on your block in San Francisco
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