Demand outweighs supply at TreePhilly’s West Oak Lane weekend giveaway

More than 150 trees went home for residential planting Sunday at the second of six Philadelphia Parks and Recreation TreePhilly giveaways at the West Oak Lane Free Library branch.

Joan Blaustein, the city’s director of urban forestry and ecosystem management, told NewsWorks that the event drew the largest crowd the program has ever seen.

“We try to gauge turnout from pre-registration and by how many people have shown up before,” Blaustein said. “Maybe because it was a beautiful day, maybe because it’s been a terrible winter, but we’ve had tremendous turnout.”

About the initiative

TreePhilly is a green initiative that encourages city residents to plant and maintain trees in their communities. Led by a partnership between Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Wells Fargo Bank, it was launched in 2012.

Blaustein said the campaign’s ultimate goal is increasing the city’s tree canopy from its current 20 percent to 30 percent by providing residents with free trees to plant in their yards.

According to TreePhilly, a tree canopy is the layer of branches and leaves that capture falling rain, reduce flooding, clean air and provide shade for city streets and homes.

“We know we’re not gonna get to our tree canopy goal just by planting on public spaces; we have to have people plant in their yards as well,” she said. “So, that’s the whole purpose behind this effort is to get people to plant on private property.”

At the scene

Ali Rosenberg was one of several volunteers who helped to manage the often-long lines of people who were anxiously waiting to receive their free trees.

“They had a couple of months to register. … It’s two trees per person for that pre-registration,” Rosenberg said. “We had about 80 percent fruit trees and about 20 percent non-fruit trees this time around, and there are limited supplies of each tree. So, basically, you come here and then it’s first-come first-served.”

Pre-registrees like Elizabeth Watkins-Gay simply had to show up and claim a free tree. Watkins-Gay didn’t get the exact kind of tree she wanted, but was still happy to receive one.

“I wanted a pear of fig tree. I ended up getting a Winter King Hawthorn,” she said. “I did have a choice between this and a crab apple, but I’m not too crazy about crab apples. It’s OK, though. I registered for this one, and hopefully I can register again and maybe get my pear or fig tree.”

Others, like West Oak Lane resident Kimberly Turner, waited in line until mid-afternoon in an attempt to claim any leftovers.

“I came to the library yesterday, saw the flyer and I was very excited,” Turner said. “I didn’t want to not take advantage of the opportunity. I have a big yard and I would love to have some nice flowers and a tree in it.

“I like to do it [plant things] and when people walk by and they say, ‘Oh, your yard always looks so nice’ that makes me feel good.”

Results and future giveaways

TreePhilly Program Manager Erica Smith Fichman partially attributed the increased turnout to pre-event marketing.

“What normally happens is that 50 percent of registered people don’t even show up. So, instead of ordering all of those trees, we under-order because we don’t want to have extra trees leftover,” she said. “This year, for some reason, it’s been more successful than ever.

“We had a lot more advertising about the walk-in possibilities because we really wanted to get rid of all of the trees. The combination of … under-ordering and over-advertising led to massive success.”

A total of 156 trees were given away at Sunday’s event.

TreePhilly will host four additional tree giveaways next weekend at locations throughout the city, with pre-registration encouraged. More information is available at

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