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March 19, 2021

Philly is giving away 1,000 trees — here's how to get and plant one

Increasing the city's canopy will enhance green spaces and improve public health, TreePhilly says

Parks and Recreation Trees
Philly Cherry Trees Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

TreePhilly is distributing 1,000 trees to Philadelphia residents this spring to help the city reach its goal of increasing the tree canopy in every neighborhood by 30%.

Philadelphia residents can get a free sapling to plant in their yards this spring though a program aimed at increasing the city's tree canopy coverage.

TreePhillycommunity partnership between the Parks & Recreation department and the Fairmount Park Conservancy, will distribute 1,000 saplings to help the city reach its goal of expanding each neighborhood's tree coverage by 30%. 

"Planting a tree is not only a great way for Philadelphians to get outdoors, but it's also part of improving the long-term public health of our communities," Fairmount Park Conservancy Executive Director Maura McCarthy said. "Trees provide essential services for city residents — they lower stress levels, improve our respiratory health and cool our homes on hot summer days."

There are 13 species available, including everything from European Pear trees to Scarlet Oak trees. They cover a range of sizes and varieties. The saplings comes with mulch and planting and care instructions, but recipients must plant the tree themselves.

A citywide pickup event will be held May 15 at the American Swedish Historical Museum in FDR Park from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Another 13 contactless pickup events will be held beginning March 27 and continuing throughout the spring. 

To obtain a sapling, residents must register online for a 30-minute pickup window. Walk-ups will not be permitted. They must load their trees into their own vehicles, per COVID-19 guidelines.

Home deliveries are available for people at high risk of COVID-19, people who lack vehicles and people who are unable to pick up a tree during an event time. 

When planting the sapling, TreePhilly recommends considering the amount of sunlight the tree species needs and how tall it will grow. Large trees should be planted at least 15 feet from any building and without overhead obstruction, like utility wires. 

Saplings should be planted in yards — not in sidewalk boxes or containers, which are harsh environments for young trees. Residents who want a tree planted on their street can request one here

Trees require plenty of water during their first two years of life. Give the tree 10 gallons of water once or twice a week from the time the it blossoms in the spring until its leaves fall off in late autumn. Loosening the topsoil will help water reach its roots. Adding mulch will keep the roots moist and help keep the tree cool in the summer and warm in the winter. 

Planting trees not only creates a more attractive green space in the city, but it also helps improve the health of residents. 

A 2020 study showed that increasing Philadelphia's tree canopy by 30% could save hundreds of residents from premature death every year. Research shows trees boost social engagement, mental health and physical activity while decreasing stress. They also may help reduce overheating-related deaths, which disproportionately affect lower-income neighborhoods.

"Experimental and quasi-experimental work in Philadelphia has shown that greening interventions throughout the city led to improved mental health outcomes and reduced drug crime and gun violence," the study authors wrote.

The Mayor's Office of Sustainability launched TreePhilly in 2009. It has distributed 21,500 trees since it started in 2012. 

"Trees are the lungs of our city," Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell said. "They help keep Philadelphians healthier, and make our neighborhoods stronger and more beautiful."

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