Plant On Your Own

A child playing in a hole where a tree will soon be plantedWe work hard to ensure that participating in a Neighborhood Tree Planting is the easiest, most economical and most enjoyable way to get more trees on your block. However, if you wish to undertake tree planting on your own, we offer these tips.

1. Select the site.

The first step in planning your planting is to choose the right place for your tree. In an urban setting, potential tree sites are limited by a number of factors – legal, practical, and aesthetic. Make sure you consider factors such as city ordinances, views from your windows, utility lines, and parking behavior on your street when choosing a location for your tree.

2. Apply for a planting permit.

Property owners are required to have a permit from the Department of Public Works (DPW) in order to plant a street tree. There is no fee required for the permit.

  • Complete a permit application and return it to the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Street Use and Mapping. An application may be obtained by calling DPW at 415-641-2674 or online.
  • Please be sure to sign and date the application.
  • Call Underground Service Alert (800-642-2444) to notify utilities of your tree planting project at least five days prior to your DPW appointment, or submit a ticket to them online.

DPW will inspect the area to determine whether to issue or deny a permit. You must indicate your preference by placing an “X” with masking tape, chalk, or white paint on the sidewalk. Current regulations for street tree locations are listed on the back of the DPW permit application.Tree planting tools

DPW Urban Forestry Program Staff can be reached at 415-641-2674 for assistance with the permit process and advice on species selection.

3. Choose a tree species.

When selecting a tree for your planting project, it’s important to consider the following factors:

  • Wind direction and force
  • Sun exposure
  • Overhead wires
  • Soil type: mostly sand? Or clay? (Determine by digging in the planting location)
  • How big do you want your tree to be when it is mature?
  • What tree form/shape is right for your spot? (Round, weeping, spreading, or upright?)
  • How about character, color, and special features? (Evergreen, deciduous, native, flowering, etc.)
  • How much time do you have for maintenance?

Try to identify trees already growing in your area, particularly those that look vigorous and healthy. The condition of existing trees in your neighborhood can be your best guide to picking a suitable species for your planting project.

For further ideas, see our Urban Tree Species Directory or consult the Sunset Western Garden Book or FUF’s booklet entitled Trees for San Francisco. You may also want to visit Strybing Arboretum or the Street Tree Demonstration Area on Funston between Fulton and Anza. Try Cal Poly’s tree selections guide. You can also consult the DPW by calling 415-641-2674.

4. Select and purchase a healthy tree.

FUF recommends planting 15-gallon size trees. Anything larger is difficult to handle without special equipment; anything smaller would be too vulnerable to vandalism.

We recommend the following Bay Area nurseries, which offer good tree selections:

If the tree you want is not in stock, the nursery may be able to order it for you.

This guide will help you assess the quality of nursery trees.

When inspecting a nursery tree, look for the following characteristics:

  1. Straight, tapered trunk that is thicker at the base
  2. Strong central leader, or central stem. Trees that are pruned into a vase shape may have several leaders, but they should not compete with each other.
  3. Natural, symmetrical shape. Branches should be well-spaced and evenly distributed around the trunk. Avoid trees that have been severely headed back — a practice of over-pruning new growth to produce a bush-like shape that leads to weak branches in later years.
  4. Healthy root system. Use your finger to scratch down an inch or so below the surface of the container. Check that roots are not kinked or circling, and are evenly distributed around the tree. Ensure that no roots are growing out through the bottom of the container.
  5. Healthy leaf tips and limber twigs. Gently bend a twig at the end of a branch.
  6. Undamaged bark. Check for scrapes, poorly healed pruning scars, or insect damage.
  7. No pests or diseases. Check for evidence of pests, particularly on the undersides of new leaves.

5. Cut the sidewalk.

A big drill digging a hole in the sidewalk

D.L. Drilling uses an auger drill to dig a hole in a basin in the Mission, 2009.

Rent a concrete saw or hire a private concrete contractor to cut a tree basin (the largest size possible per DPW) in your sidewalk at the location marked with red spray paint by the DPW.  Here’s a list of concrete contractors, courtesy of San Francisco Public Works.

6. Gather planting materials and tools.

In order to conduct a successful planting, you’ll need the following materials:

  • one 15-gallon tree
  • three 8’x2″ ACQ treated stakes
  • three 36″ green arbor ties (no wire!)
  • three 3″x18″ crossbraces
  • one cardboard watering tube, 18″ long, 3-4″ diameter (for heavy clay soils only)
  • Drain rock to fill tube
  • Nails

And you’ll need the following tools:

  • shovel
  • hammer
  • stake driver or sledge hammer

7. Plant your tree.

Here is a video to show you how.