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How to organize tree plantings

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.

Note: If you are organizing a similar planting in your community, several companies have self-identified as being available to work with you.

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.

Small Trees Make Big Canopies -

in Arlington

Pam Quanrud and Alicia Martin started their project in 2020 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, and identified and created information cards for each. COVID interfered with their original plan to give them away at local events, so instead they set up shop on their driveways and advertised through In less than a month, they gave away 70 trees. As of winter 2023, they have given away nearly 800 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.

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

Has your community been planting trees?

Please let us know so we can highlight your experience here to share with others.

Burke Centre Conservancy

Free trees for homeowners and common land


Burke Centre Conservancy (BCC) is in its 3rd season with this program tied to the Fairfax Releaf program. In Oct 2020, Fairfax Releaf contacted the facilities manager about taking 50 Redbuds, 50 button bushes and a few Serviceberry and Winterberry they had remaining. The facilities manager set up an email address for residences to request the plants, and Board member Craig Willett advertised in the BCBuzz and posted about 100 fliers in the neighborhood.  He coordinated with the Board of Trustees to create and accept an ARB applicaton form with name, address, email, and plant name for residents to sign and turned into the ARB. The formal ARB process takes a minimum of 30 days, submission to approval.


Craig manages the resident email requests and created a database of the information.


For the first event, Fairfax Releaf dropped the plants off in early November on a Friday, and Craig sorted them into bags with names and distributed on Saturday and Sunday at the BCC office, having people drive up, give their name and hand them the plants.


The event went fairly easily, and Fairfax Releaf agreed that BCC could be a major recipient for free trees. They repeated the process for March 2021, distributing 180 trees and shrubs, and sent more trees and shrub orders to Fairfax Relief this February. Craig no longer sorts plants into bags with names, but just keeps them in bundles by plant group and distributes them from his residence using the database to pull plans from each bundle as needed. He also includes planting and maintenance guidance, and references, including the Plant NOVA Natives webpage, to use in selecting the correct plant for the correct location. 


BCC also replaces dead trees and shrubs planted in common spaces, annually in the spring, and reforests unused lawn areas upon request. The procedure for this is a little different. Trustees of the various clusters put in a request, and Craig comes himself to plant the trees and install tubing to protect them.

They keep the cost down by having volunteer labor and using free mulch from the Fairfax trash complex (spring and fall) and watering using  a portable 300 ft hose reel BCC purchased that they connect to Community Centers' pools water sources. They water every 10 days for the first 24 month that we don’t get .1 inch of rain (about 3 times each summer) between Aug and Sept. The agreement is for BCC landscaping to take over maintenance of plants after 24 months.


Burke Centre Conservancy has a written tree maintenance policy. Since 2018, the community has planted and maintained over 600 native trees and shrubs in the Burke Centre Conservancy, with 98% survival rate.

Camelot Garden Club

-Camelot ReLeaf, sponsored by the Camelot Garden Club, aims to add more canopy trees to our neighborhood by offering native canopy trees at the lowest possible price with no work needed by the homeowner.


-We are offering a 7-gallon, 5-8' tree, delivered, planted, mulched (these services provided by Rimble Landscaping) and deer-protected for $170. We will also call 811 prior to planting.


-We hope to be a multi-year program, much like Plant NOVA Trees, with this year being our pilot year.


-We are offering only canopy trees: white oak, a species of red oak, black oak, red maple, and blackgum.


-We offer free site visits to interested customers helping them determine the right tree for the right place.


Although support for the program has been strong, one comment we've been hearing people say is that they already have plenty of mature trees. One thing we are hoping to educate folks on going forward is the importance of successional planting on our properties as well, to provide the next generation of canopy trees. 

Download the Camelot ReLeaf pamphlet

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