Create your own sidewalk garden
See these resources and guidelines from San Francisco Public Works.
Plant a Tree
See the instructions below.
We 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, utility lines, use of the sidewalk, 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 Bureau of Urban Forestry (BUF) at San Francisco Public Works in order to plant a street tree. There is no fee required for the permit.
- Complete a permit application and return it to BUF. An application may be obtained online or by calling BUF at 628-562-8733 (TREE).
- 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 BUF appointment, or submit a ticket to them online.
BUF 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 permit application.
BUF staff can be reached at 628-562-8733 (TREE) 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.
See below for resources that can help you choose the right tree for the right place:
- FUF Urban Tree Species Directory
- Cal Poly SelecTree Tree Selection Guide
- SF Public Works’ Recommended Street Tree List
- Sunset Western Garden Book
- Trees of San Francisco
4. Select and purchase a healthy tree.
FUF recommends planting 15-gallon size trees (this refers to the capacity of the pot they’re sold in). 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:
- East Bay Nursery
- Sloat Garden Center
- Flowercraft Garden Center
- Wegman’s Nursery
- Yerba Buena Nursery
- Bay Natives
- Flora Grubb
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:
- Straight, tapered trunk that is thicker at the base
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Healthy leaf tips and limber twigs. Gently bend a twig at the end of a branch.
- Undamaged bark. Check for scrapes, poorly healed pruning scars, or insect damage.
- No pests or diseases. Check for evidence of pests, particularly on the undersides of new leaves.
5. Cut the sidewalk.
Rent a concrete saw or hire a private concrete contractor to cut a tree basin (the largest size possible per San Francisco Public Works) in your sidewalk at the location marked with red spray paint by the Public Works. Here’s a list of concrete contractors, courtesy of 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
And you’ll need the following tools:
- stake driver or sledge hammer
7. Plant your tree.
Here is a video to show you how.
8. Care for your tree.
To improve your tree’s chances of reaching healthy maturity, you should provide basic care for it — including watering it — during the first few years after you’ve planted it. See tips on all aspects of tree care here.