How to organize tree plantings

Examples of volunteer projects

that get the job done.

City of Alexandria neighborhood 

Lynn Gas and Jane Seward were bemoaning the fact that they had both lived here for over 30 years, and it was so much hotter than it used to be due to the loss of our tree canopy. They decided to do something about it and started the Canopy Tree Restoration Campaign. They talked to their neighbors and got them to sign up to have a tree installed for at a deep discount. They helped each homeowner select and mark the site. They contracted with a  landscape company to obtain through a wholesaler native trees that were indigenous to the area and install them all on the same day - 140 trees altogether that first year.

It has been a labor of love and they have learned a lot in the process. It is important to be very organized so the installers can move fast (and thus keep the costs down). They often send out emails to remind people to water.

Small Trees Make Big Canopies -

in Arlington

Pam Quanrud and Alicia Martin started their project with the concept that it is much easier and less expensive to plant and care for small saplings than the 6-10 foot trees typically sold in garden centers. They potted up small native trees and acorns from their yards and those of friends and neighbors, identified, and created information cards for each. COVID interefered with their original plan to give them away at local events, so instead they set up shop on their driveways and adverstised through In less than a month, they gave away 70 trees. They send reminder emails to the new owners about watering and tree care.

Details are here, including a link to the information cards for seven species in English and Spanish.

Tips for Organizing

Keep prices down. There are numerous sources for inexpensive (or even free) small trees. You can order bare root seedlings for prices ranging from $2 apiece for 10 trees to $0.30 apiece for 1000. Consider partnering with other communities to obtain the lowest cost per tree. (Availability is highest in the spring.) For those prices, you can fund your community project with a few donations. For larger trees, two wholesalers have agreed to sell at wholesale costs to groups doing community plantings. We have started a list of companies that can do installations (they have self-identified). It is also sometimes possible to get a grant.


Have a Compelling Message. Canopy trees are easy to sell.  They raise property values by as much as ten percent, save on A/C bills, and mitigate the urban heat effect along with the environmental services of reducing greenhouse gas, controlling stormwater runoff, and providing food and habitat for wildlife.  Repeat this message as often as possible.

Make it Easy.  People are busy so the less they have to do the better.  A campaign that takes the work out of selecting and planting the trees and offers them at wholesale prices will attract more participants.  Keeping the list of trees (or other plants) limited will make decisions easier.  Be willing to follow up with neighbors rather than waiting for a response.  


Engage the Neighbors.  Involve as many people as possible, recruiting dog walkers, boy and girl scouts, and others to assist with talking to and signing up neighbors.  Get the support of the neighborhood civic or homeowners association and use newsletters, listservs, websites, e-mail lists, community events, an appealing brochure, and door-to-door canvassing to spread the word. Making the campaign fun and emphasizing the community benefits of the campaign will increase enthusiasm.  Be grateful for all support and interest even if a neighbor opts not to participate.

Enlist Community Experts.  Tap the expertise of municipal arborists, foresters, and natural resource managers as well as Tree Stewards, Master Gardeners and other community experts in developing and implementing the campaign. Tap local businesses for graphic design, landscapers, wholesale nurseries as much as possible to get donated time and lowered prices.

Be Organized.  Keep paper copies and computerized list of orders with names, addresses, emails, phone numbers, type of tree ordered.  Maintain lists of volunteers and train them on how to get orders and checks. 

Have a Leader.  While having broad input from the neighbors and local experts is critical it also important to have someone who can balance competing ideas and make decisions.  Two project leaders who work well together can share the load and make the effort more manageable.

Allow Enough Time.  Plan for up to 18 months to develop and carry out your campaign.  Giving nurseries a six to seven months lead time will ensure good healthy trees in the quantities and species desired.  Plan on at least four to five months for developing the materials, recruiting volunteers, promoting the campaign, and three to four months for taking orders. Fall is the best time for the trees, although spring is when more people are thinking about planting.

Communicate.  Keep participants updated on progress, when trees will be planted, what to expect, and how to care for them after planting.  Professionally design and reproduce brochures and order forms to convey that the effort is serious.

Working on common land

Things get more complicated when you are trying to move an organization to action.

Click to find extensive tips.

58 trees planted Oct 2021 in an Alexandria neighborhood.JPG