Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why does the Pierce Conservation District provide discounted trees to residents?
A: The environmental, social, economic, and public health benefits of healthy urban forests are well documented in the scientific community. In order to improve the county’s urban forestry resources, Pierce Conservation District plants hundreds of trees every year in areas like open spaces, stream banks, wetlands, habitat areas and street tree locations. In our urban areas most of the land is privately owned so to reap all the benefits of urban trees requires a partnership with the private property residents to maximize the goals of urban tree plantings. This program is PCD’s way of engaging residents to plant and maintain healthy trees in their yards and along their local streets, that will grow to provide benefits to everyone. All participants go through an educational training before receiving trees for their yard or street tree location. We also focus the program on planting trees in storm water basins that contribute runoff to streams which are plagued by water quality problems and erosion; slowing polluted runoff before entering these streams and intercepting runoff before it gets a chance to flow into these streams, which improves water quality in these basins.
Q: Why are your trees only available in the fall?
A:Fall is the best time to plant a tree in Pierce County. Trees planted in the fall are more likely to survive our hot, dry summer season because they are given an entire wet winter to overcome the shock of planting. Trees planted in the spring and summer often die.
Q: When does the application open and how do I apply?
A: The application usually opens in early June. Once open, applications will be available on the main HERE page. Please review the information on our website and consider the space you have in your yard and in your planting strip before submitting your application.
Q: Can I still apply for trees if I rent my house?
A: Yes! However, you must get permission from the homeowner before you apply for trees through our program. Consider who will take care of the trees (i.e. pruning and watering) during the tree’s crucial establishment years (1 -5 years after planting).
Q: Is there a limit on the number of trees I can receive through the Tree Program?
A: Yes. You can apply for up to 3 trees per address.
Q: Why is there a waitlist for some trees?
A: We can only offer a limited number of trees to stay within our budget. Some species of trees are very popular, and while we provide as many of them as possible, demand often exceeds supply. Many people on the waitlist do end up being offered a tree, as others release their trees for a variety of reasons.
Q: What happens if I am placed on a waitlist for a tree?
A. If you request a tree that we are sold out of, we will notify you that you’ve been placed on a waitlist. Waitlist requests are added in the order applications are received. If you choose to remain on the waitlist and a tree becomes available for you, we will notify you by email as soon as possible.
Q: Is there help available if I’m physically unable to pick up and plant a tree?
A: Yes. On a case-by-case basis, we can help participants who are physically unable to plant a tree themselves. Because young trees need a great deal of care and because we are unable to provide long-term maintenance for all of our trees, it is critical that you or someone you know can help you adequately care for your new tree after it is planted. Please give us a call at 253.845.9770 x109 or email Melissa to inquire about tree planting assistance.
Q. What if I applied for a tree and don’t want it anymore?
A: Not a problem, just let us know ASAP so we can find the tree a new home! Email Melissa and let us know that you are releasing your tree so we can give it to someone on the waitlist.
Tree Species Questions
Q: How do you choose what species are included?
A: We strive to offer species that the public will be most interested in planting. However, our species selection must meet a number of guidelines, making it a logistical puzzle. We strive to provide 8-12 species to choose from. We must have trees that reach a range of sizes at maturity in order to meet the diverse needs of planting sites across the city. We need trees small enough to go under power lines and large trees that offer the greatest payback in benefits such as storm water reduction. We need a number of species that are appropriate as street trees, as about 1/4 of our trees end up in these locations. We include at least one native species and one fruit tree species. We try to find trees with features we know are popular, such as flowers. We try to include as many evergreen species as possible, as they offer the greatest benefit to storm water reduction. We never include invasive species or species that are susceptible to loss by future pests and disease, such as ash. We try to avoid species that are over-planted in Pierce County, such as red maple. And then given all of those considerations, we can only purchase what is available from the nursery industry with the quantity and timing we need and given the budget we have to work in.
Q: Why don’t you have more native trees?
A: We offer at least one native species every year. However, while a given species of tree may be considered native to this region that does not mean it will survive or is appropriate in the harsh urban landscape. Our native conifers need a large space, which is often not available in small residential plots, and very rarely in street tree locations. Big leaf maple trees, while beautiful in park settings, are prone to branch failure, and therefore best not planted along streets or near homes. We carefully select trees that have been shown to do well in city conditions, including pavement, compaction, and increased air pollution. These are conditions that our native trees are not necessarily well suited for. We never offer invasive species of trees.
Q: Can I request a tree that’s not on your planting list?
A: No. In order for the project to work, we secure trees from nurseries far in advance of the application opening. We cannot change that order, and can offer only what we have already purchased. You can, however, send us suggestions for trees you would like to see offered in the future and we will take that into consideration. Another option to get a different tree species is to utilize the Pierce County-wide Tree Coupon program.
Q: Will you have x species of tree next year?
A: We rotate the species of trees we plant every year due to nursery availability and to avoid the over planting of any given species. We do not know what species will be offered in any given year until we have gone through the procurement process in the spring.
Q: Why don’t you provide shrubs / understory plants?
A: The focus of the Community Tree program is to build tree canopy cover in residential areas. Shrubs and understory plants, while important, do not achieve that goal and we do not have any funding to provide them. That does not mean that you should not plant them on your own where appropriate.
Q: How do I select the best tree for my site?
A: Take time to evaluate the spots on your property where trees can fit. The survival and health of a tree depends on how well it is suited to the spot that you plant it. When selecting a tree, consider placement (is there enough space for this tree when it grows up?), light, moisture, and type of soil. Consider the height and spread of the tree at maturity. Envision what the tree will look like in 30+ years. Larger trees provide greater benefits to your neighborhood and our environment. Large trees absorb more storm water, breathe in more carbon dioxide, and breathe out more oxygen than smaller trees. For these reasons, Pierce Conservation District recommends planting larger trees whenever appropriate. If you want to plant a tree on the street, arborists will review your tree selection to ensure you are planting the best tree for your planting strip.
Q: Why don’t you offer trees that are larger when planted?
A: We try to strike a balance between a tree that is large enough to make an immediate difference to the landscape when planted, yet small enough for the average person to carry, transport, and plant themselves.
Street Tree and Utility Questions
Q: Do I need a permit to plant a street tree?
A: Yes. We will submit a permit request for you, but we cannot guarantee that it will be approved. All street tree permit requests are reviewed by your jurisdiction. Their decision depends on many factors including the width of the planting strip, proximity to other trees, distance from the planting site to intersections and driveways, and the presence of underground utilities.
Q: How do I know if my planting spot is in the right-of-way?
A: Generally speaking, the area between the curb/street and the sidewalk is the public right-of-way. You can check if your planting spot is in the right-of-way yourself by using Pierce County’s GIS program and entering your street address. Once you find your property, open the Parcel/Zoning folder and turn on the Right-of-Way layer. Review the map to determine if planting spot is in the right-of-way.
Q: Why do I need to locate underground utilities before getting a street tree permit?
A: There are many utilities commonly located under planting strips that would be negatively impacted if a tree were planted too close. Water and sewer lines are of particular concern because the roots of a tree planted too close can infiltrate small cracks in the lines over time, leading to breaks in the pipes which can be very costly to repair. We also want to make sure you don’t hit a gas line! Before planting your tree, it is your responsibility to Call Before You Dig. (811)
Q: How do I avoid hitting an underground utility line when I dig my planting hole?
A: Not only is it within your interest to contact the Utilities Underground Location Center before you plant a tree, it’s the law. Before you plant your tree, call 1-800-424-5555 (or 811) at least 2 days before you plan to dig. Visibly mark your proposed planting location in white before the utility companies arrive. Utility companies will mark the location of your water, electric, and gas lines. You should also know where your side sewer line is located before digging your planting hole. Plant your tree at least 10 feet away from your sewer line.
Q: Can I plant a tree under power lines?
A: Yes, as long as it is a small species. All trees under power lines must be 25’ or less at maturity. The Community Tree program offers a few species appropriate for under power lines every year. Tree Pickup Questions
Q: Why do I have to go through a planting workshop?
A: Part of the reason we receive funding for this program is our emphasis on making sure the trees survive into maturity. We believe it is a waste of taxpayer money to plant trees that then die and thus strive to avoid this outcome. Teaching program participants how to avoid common, yet often, deadly tree planting mistakes is one of the best ways to do this, as you are ultimately the person who will determine the future health of your tree. Every year we receive feedback from multiple people, including experienced landscapers and gardeners, who tell us that they thought they knew everything about trees yet learned something new. We respect your time and strive to keep the workshops short and to the point, and appreciate your understanding and open mindedness. Your willingness to go through the workshop helps us keep our funding.
Q: How do I get trees from the workshop site to my home?
A: You are responsible for moving your trees from the pickup site to your home. Most trees are 4-6 feet high and in 5, 7, or 10 gallon containers. The evergreen conifers tend to be a bit smaller and usually are between 2-4 feet tall at pickup. We will have staff on hand to help you load the trees in your vehicle, but you may need to rent or borrow a pickup truck if you have a small vehicle or are picking up numerous trees. Remember to clean out your vehicle before arriving at the workshop and that having more passengers in the car means less space for trees! You may want to consider bringing a tarp or plastic to put down under the trees to protect the interior of the car. If you are unable to find transportation for your trees, please let us know. On a case-by-case basis, we can help deliver trees to residents who are unable to find transportation. Contact Melissa for assistance.
Q: Can I pick up trees for my neighbor?
A: We love to see neighbors working together! If you plan to plant the trees, you can pick up the trees for your neighbor. We encourage the person who plans on planting and caring for the tree to attend the workshop so tree recipients learn how to avoid deadly tree planting mistakes and how to care for their tree in the long-term.
Planting and Follow-up Care Questions
Q: The trees I received were root bound! Why don’t you buy trees that are in better condition?
A: We strive to buy the highest quality trees available. However, we are restricted to what is available in the market, and it is very difficult to purchase container trees with the size, quantity, timing, and species necessary to make the program work without ending up with some that are root bound. We stress the importance of the workshops so that we can teach people how to help their trees overcome this hurdle and go on to lead a healthy life.
Q: One of my trees looks sick, what should I do?
A: PCD does not conduct health check-ups for trees, however you can contact us to see if we can help. Master Gardeners are a great resource for basic questions. If you need a tree assessment or your tree needs some care, you should contact an ISA certified arborist.
Always feel free to contact us if your question is not answered!
Water Quality Improvement & Monitoring Program Director
Phone: (253) 325-8821
Habitat Stewardship Program Manager
Phone: (253) 225-9162
Water Quality Program Manager
Phone: (253) 278-6493
Water Quality Project Manager
Phone: (253) 325-3143