TREES SHAPE OUR environment. They lend character to neighborhoods and foster a sense of welcome. Shady parks and shopping plazas provide green gathering spaces for everyone, while tree-lined streets help calm traffic, creating a safer environment for drivers and pedestrians alike.

Strategically placed in the landscape, deciduous trees provide cooling shade in summer while allowing rays of the relatively weak sun to warm our interiors in winter. Evergreen trees provide year-round privacy and shelter from the wind. Practically speaking, trees soak up rainwater and filter airborne particulates, to say nothing of providing the oxygen we breathe.

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Trees are a part of our region’s identity — we’re the Emerald City in the Evergreen State.

Since 2009, Trees for Neighborhoods, one of several city programs dedicated to growing and maintaining a healthy urban forest, has provided Seattle residents with free trees. According to the Trees for Seattle website, the initiative has distributed more than 12,300 trees. That’s a lot of character, shade, shelter and other health benefits that contribute to the livability of our community.

Planting trees means you believe in tomorrow. However, to reach maturity and offer valuable benefits to our urban canopy, trees require tending.

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To get started on your tree-planting adventure, visit the Trees for Seattle website (seattle.gov/trees), and click on the Trees for Neighborhoods box. There you’ll find guidance on how to evaluate your planting site. Pro tip: Make sure you plan for the mature size of your tree and pay attention to overhead and underground utilities.

You’ll also want to consider how your tree will affect neighboring structures and passageways. Trees with an upright habit are more accommodating to pedestrian and road traffic than those with a spreading growth habit. Finally, factor in your commitment to seasonal maintenance and the importance of nurturing your young tree for the next three to five years, so it gets off to a strong start.

Trees for Neighborhoods is committed to supporting tree planters. When you participate in the program, you’ll receive (along with free trees) expert advice on selecting the right tree for your location, a watering bag and mulch for each tree, and instructions on how to successfully plant and care for your tree(s). The group also will help with applying for a street tree-planting permit.

The Trees for Neighborhoods program serves residences, schools, businesses and churches within Seattle city limits. The process begins in early July. To make sure you don’t miss the application window for this very popular program, sign up for the 2022 email notification. You’ll be guided through the process, and later, when applications open, you’ll receive a link to apply for your trees. Trees are available for pickup in fall; there’ll also be a care and planting workshop.

The following trees are examples from the 2021 availability list:

Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘Vanessa’) is an elegant small tree with an upright vase shape that matures at around 25-30 feet tall by 15-20 feet wide. Approved for planting under power lines, this tree is a beautiful addition to the landscape.

Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) is a majestic shade tree with a rounded habit and fast growth to 60 feet tall by 40 feet wide. Before you plant a large shade tree, make sure you have the space and the sun to promote healthy growth.

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Shore pine (Pinus contorta var. contorta) is a native conifer with a broad canopy that grows 40 to 50 feet tall by 30 feet wide.

Evergreen trees add year-round interest and are especially effective at trapping stormwater runoff when it’s needed the most during storm season. Trees and forests are the number one nature-based solution for reversing the negative effects of a changing climate.

For tree-planting inspiration and to learn more about how you can become an advocate for trees and forests, check out “Now is the Time for Trees” by Dan Lambe of the Arbor Day Foundation (with — full disclosure — me) from Timber Press.