How to Get a Tree on Your Block in San Francisco

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Introduction: 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).

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.

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.

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.

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!

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)

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

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.

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    52 Comments

    Step one: Be a gentrifying yuppie

    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. 


    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.

    2 replies

    ...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...

    :D

    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...

    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?

    14 replies

    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.

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

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

    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.

    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...

    I second that!

    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.


    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...)

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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... .___.