Want a free tree? Here’s how to get one

Get in the Earth Day spirit.
2 min. read
A possibly smelly callery pear tree in Denver’s North Captiol Hill neighborhood. April 10, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

As Denver comes into bloom and farmers market season nears, Denverites can request free trees to be planted outside their property.

The “Be A Smart Ash” program partners with Denver Parks and Recreation and other local forestry groups to plant trees in the public right of way next to single-family homes.

It’s part of a push to improve the tree canopy in Denver, which has one of the worst downtown tree canopies among big cities in the U.S. That’s in part because growing trees in any city is more difficult with shallow soil and less natural water, while some trees planted in downtown Denver in the past were not fit for Colorado’s arid climate.

Tree coverage is also an equity issue — across the country, including in Denver, poorer neighborhoods tend to have fewer trees, which leads to hotter weather, infrequent shade, higher energy costs and worse air quality during high temperatures.

In 2023, Colorado got $22 million from the federal government to improve the tree canopy, some of which went to Denver.

Here’s how to apply for a free tree.

Residents requesting trees need to have enough space for them. That means room so that the tree would have to be 30 feet from a curb's corner, 25-to-35 feet from existing trees, 20 feet from street lights and stop signs and 10 feet from alleys, driveways and fire hydrants.

The requester must own a single-family home or get landlord permission.

The free “smart ash” trees start at eight feet tall, and the type depends on the property and what the city has available. Common species include elm, oak, hackberry, Kentucky coffee and catalpa.

Interested residents can apply online, after which an arborist will come measure the potential site to see if it meets requirements and assess if a tree would do well. Once planted, residents are expected to care for the tree themselves.

Denverites can apply here.

A second program, The Park People, provides free and low-cost trees across Denver. 2024 applications are closed and will open again early next year.

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