How you can help make your Philly-area neighborhood greener this weekend

Volunteers are needed to help PHS Tree Tenders groups plant 1,800 trees in Philly and surrounding suburbs.

Cristina Tessaro, PHS associate director of activation, receives trees from a truck slated for fall planting in the Philadelphia region

Cristina Tessaro, PHS associate director of activation, receives trees from a truck slated for fall planting in the Philadelphia region on Nov. 14, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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A tractor trailer pulled up to a warehouse in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond neighborhood this week. Inside were hundreds of baby trees, with plastic bags tied around their roots.

“We want every single one of these trees to be in the ground by the end of this weekend,” said Cristina Tessaro, associate director of activation at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

The bare-root trees — American lindens, American hornbeams, buckeyes, and more — arrived just in time for the organization’s bi-annual tree planting extravaganza, from Thursday through Sunday.

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PHS hosts tree plantings through its Tree Tenders groups each spring and fall, and expects this week’s to be one of the organization’s biggest tree plantings yet. Up to 1,800 trees could go in the ground throughout Philadelphia and some of the surrounding suburbs over the course of four days.

Trees ready for planting are seen in a warehouse
Volunteers gathered at the PHS Warehouse in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia to unload and sort trees ahead of fall tree planting in the region on Nov. 14, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The goal is to reduce disparities in access to greenery and shade, improve the Philly region’s air quality, and make the area more resilient to worsening summer heat and flooding.

Despite efforts by PHS and other groups to plant trees in Philly, the city has lost tree cover in recent years — 1,000 football fields’ worth between 2008 and 2018. What trees the city does have are distributed unevenly, with poorer neighborhoods and those that were redlined generally having fewer trees than wealthier ones.

“We know it’s not just that trees are good for communities — it’s that so many communities in our region that don’t have trees are being harmed by that lack of tree canopy,” said Tim Ifill, director of trees at PHS. “So it’s really important for us to identify the communities that need trees most and invest in more planting in those neighborhoods.”

The city finalized a plan early this year that charts a path to eliminating these disparities and increasing the city’s overall tree canopy by one-third within the next few decades.

Dozens of Tree Tenders groups are working toward those goals this week.

As of Wednesday, groups in West, South, Southwest, Northwest, Northeast, and North Philly were seeking volunteers for plantings.

The Southwest Philly Tree Coalition, a Tree Tenders group out of Bartram’s Garden, is looking for volunteers to help plant a memorial grove at an empty lot owned by a local church on Saturday, Nov. 18. The grove was planned in partnership with Moms Bonded by Grief, and will eventually feature a full garden, seating, and artwork with names of people who have passed away, said Tree Program Coordinator at Bartram’s Garden Merissa MacDonald.

“There has been a lot of requests for a space like this — a Memorial Grove where anyone can sit and grieve lost loved ones, especially to gun violence,” MacDonald said. “[Trees] are such a great sign of hope and resilience.”

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In Kensington — another area identified in the Philly Tree Plan as a priority for tree plantings — a Tree Tenders group called Philly Tree People plans to plant over 100 trees on Sunday, Nov. 19.

“We have the opioid crisis, … asthma rates are really high. There’s just so many health ramifications that are interconnected with the lack of tree canopy,” said co-founder of the group Jacelyn Blank. “It’s just really important for people to come out and take part in increasing our tree canopy so that we can live happier and healthier lives.”

Volunteers don’t need any prior experience or equipment. Blank said the event is a great opportunity to meet your neighbors, with free food and a gathering at Philadelphia Brewing Company afterwards.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” Blank said.

A map of tree planting events still in need of volunteers can be found online. PHS recommends registering to volunteer beforehand.

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