How to get a free, climate-resilient tree for your Philly yard

“Being able to green your community … is an act of self-determination and community care,” said an organizer of the tree giveaway program.

(Philadelphia Parks & Recreation)

(Philadelphia Parks & Recreation)

As fall foliage nears its peak in the Philadelphia region, it’s a great time to plant a new tree.

In Philly, you can get one for free.

The city and Fairmount Park Conservancy’s TreePhilly program is hosting its annual fall yard tree giveaways — where Philly homeowners can get trees to plant in their yards.

“It’s really important for us to remove barriers … for people greening their communities,” said Lee Scottlorde, TreePhilly program coordinator

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How it works

TreePhilly’s yard tree program is totally free — from the tree itself, to the mulch, the delivery, and the planting expertise.

“We try and keep our process really simple, and each year, we try to make it more accessible,” Scottlorde said.


Step 1: Sign up online

The giveaways are hosted in partnership with community organizations. Some take walk-ins, but Scottlorde recommends you register online, just in case they sell out.

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Step 2: Choose your tree

“We’re really big on stressing: right tree, right place,” Scottlorde said.

Got a small yard? Get a small tree.

Want shade? Get a big tree.

Love food? Get a fruit tree!

Find the list of options here.


Step 3: Pick it up or get it delivered

Some events are delivery-only, while some offer pickups, too.


Step 4: Plant it

Use the rule of three, said 18-year-old Shakeira Butler, who helped give out trees at the Sankofa Harvest Festival in Southwest Philly Sunday. She’s an intern with Bartram’s Garden’s Tree Crew, which plants trees, does cleanups, and listens to community concerns.

“Three feet wide [hole], three inches deep of mulch, and [mulch] three inches away from the base of the tree,” she said.

If you need help planting your tree, you can indicate that when you register, and TreePhilly staff will plant it for free. The team has limited capacity, so only request this if you can’t find a friend or neighbor to help you.

Fall is considered an ideal time to plant a tree.

“The tree can get really well established before a frost, then it gets all that snow and precipitation through the wintertime,” said Merissa MacDonald, tree program coordinator at Bartram’s Garden. “By the time spring comes around, it’s pretty well established.”

Why plant a tree?

“Being able to green your community, be it with trees or any other plant matter, is an act of self-determination and community care,” Scottlorde said.

Philly neighborhoods can have wildly different amounts of tree coverage, with fewer street trees in poorer neighborhoods than in wealthier ones. The city has lost tree cover in recent years, with a 6% drop in canopy between 2008 and 2018, largely in residential areas.

(Philadelphia Parks & Recreation)

Trees have numerous benefits: they can improve air quality, absorb planet-warming greenhouse gasses, provide cooling shade, and reduce stress.

“They can also make your mental health better,” said 16-year-old Makai Carter, who’s also part of the Tree Crew.  “If you’re not there, like mentally at that moment, you can kind of spend time with your tree, and then you would feel better.”

Build your climate resilience, decades in the future

The TreePhilly program offers tree species specifically selected to be able to survive in Philly decades into the future, as the climate warms. This means some native southern species, like sweet gum, Scottlorde said.

“We’re very intentional about preparing for the way that our environment is going to be changing due to climate change,” they said.

Not only should trees provided by TreePhilly withstand climate change, but they can help keep your community resilient. Philly is expected to get hotter and wetter, and trees help cool sunny blocks and absorb stormwater.

“In Southwest Philadelphia … there is a lot of flooding,” Scottlorde said. “So we have trees in our inventory like bald cypress that are really good for really wet areas.”

It’s important to plant trees now to help with future climate resilience, Scottlorde says, since they take a couple of decades to mature.

“We have to plant more trees now so that they can reach maturity before 2050, when it’s going to be hottest,” they said.

Local and city-wide events

Upcoming yard tree giveaways can be found on TreePhilly’s website. 

They include local events, restricted to residents of surrounding ZIP Codes — like in Tioga on Oct. 22, Powelton on Oct. 29, and West Philly on Nov. 5.

A regional giveaway on Nov. 5 at Pleasant Hill Park along the Delaware River in Torresdale is open to everyone.

(Philadelphia Parks & Recreation)

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