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.