Planting trees is one of the simplest nature-based solutions to climate change and is a tangible way for individuals to make a positive impact on the environment. However, planting a tree is easier said than done, and effectively planting in a way that ensures the long-term health of the tree requires more knowledge and skill than simply digging a hole. Trees provide so many benefits to people and the environment, from increasing property values and beautifying neighborhoods, to absorbing rainwater and decreasing the urban heat island effect. Programs in Chicago provide new trees and replace trees lost on city blocks to residents with the condition that residents put in the time and work to maintain the tree once it’s planted. We want to help you become an active steward of Chicago’s urban forest, which is why we’ve created this guide to help you find trees in Chicago through one of the programs offered to residents.
Chicago residents looking to plant a tree in their neighborhood can contact Chicago’s 3-1-1 service. The process is simple, and residents can simply call 3-1-1 or submit a request online with their address. Once the request is approved, the Bureau of Forestry will plant a tree along the public right-of-way in your neighborhood. There may be significant time between an inspected and approved request and actual tree planting. Make sure you keep the tree watered, as it is critical for the survival of the tree.
We recommend that you water a newly planted tree once you see leaves in the spring and until the leaves fall off in the fall, and give the tree 10-15 gallons of water per week. After three years, once the tree is established, you can discontinue watering unless there is a drought. Watch a full video tutorial on how to water a new tree with Openlands Forestry Program Manager Katie Fleming.
Learn more about how to contact 3-1-1.
Openlands TreePlanters Grants
Openlands TreePlanters Grants provide new trees to communities in the City of Chicago and the near south suburbs. The grants encourage resilience through planting trees and creating a network of neighbors to care for the trees. The TreePlanters Grant program was designed to facilitate conversations about trees between neighbors and to create a community of tree advocacy in Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Communities are asked to organize themselves, find sufficient places to plant 10 – 40 trees, meet their neighbors, reach out and invite their elected officials, and create a successful event all in the name of learning more about the benefits of trees and the proper way to plant and maintain new trees.
Openlands provides the education, organization, supplies, expertise, and quality control. On planting day, the Openlands Forestry Crew and certified TreeKeepers provide tools, trees, mulch and training for volunteers. In return, we ask that you help gather your neighbors, commit to work the full event (four hours), and keep caring for the trees for the next few years while they get established.
Learn more about the Openlands TreePlanters Grants.
Chicago Region Trees Initiative Program
As part of the Plant Trees for Communities Initiative with the Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI), of which Openlands is a founding member, individuals are invited to plant at least one tree in every local community in the seven-county Chicago region and in each of the 50 Chicago wards (approx. 340 trees) in 2021. The Openlands Forestry team has partnered with CRTI’s program through the TreePlanters Grant.
Each tree kit from CRTI comes with instructions on how to plant, mulch, and water your tree, along with a tree tag and tree owner’s manual. This program is a great option for anyone with tree planting experience who feels confident about their ability to manage the entire tree planting process, from planting to watering and mulching over a span of three years. Contact Lydia Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org with the Morton Arboretum to find out how to get your free tree.
Learn more about the Plant Trees for Communities program.
Purchase a Tree at the Openlands Native Tree and Plant Sale
The Openlands Native Tree and Plant Sale offers a wide variety of native trees for purchase that are not available at most big-box stores and nurseries. The Native Tree and Plant Sale is an excellent place to find more specific varieties of native trees that might not be available through one of the public tree planting programs.
Shop the sale.
Public vs. Private Planting Rules
If you are planting a tree on your own, it is essential that you only plant on your private property. In order to plant a tree in a City parkway such as through the 3-1-1 and TreePlanters Grant program, organizations must possess the necessary credentials to dig in the public right of way.
Individuals can plant anywhere in their yard, as long as the tree is at least one foot away from the sidewalk. To understand the best way to plant a tree, watch this video of Tom Ebeling, Openlands Community Arborist, who takes you through the step-by-step process and speaks to best practices.
At Openlands, we emphasize the importance of taking care of our urban forest and planting trees for the health of communities and the planet, and our Forestry team has planted more than 6,500 trees across the Chicago region since 2013. Thank you for taking action as a steward of our urban forest to increase the tree canopy in your neighborhood!