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Did You Know: Street Trees 101

newly planted street treesSeattle’s public rights-of-way along our streets provide an excellent opportunity to add trees to our city. Street trees can help calm traffic, give neighborhoods beauty and character, and even increase the value of homes.

The City of Seattle encourages residents to plant trees along public streets. But there are some special requirements you may not have heard about planting and caring for trees in this area of your yard.

  1. Permits – This is the big one! Planting a tree in a planting strip or right-of-way (usually the area between the sidewalk and street) requires a permit (it’s free!) from the Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) Arborist Office (see below for how to get one). To obtain a street tree permit, contact SDOT at 206-684-TREE (8733). Or visit SDOT’s website to fill out the urban forestry permit application.
  2. Utilities – There are also special considerations of underground and overhead utilities, tree species, and planting strip width. When planting a tree in the right-of-way, we want to avoid future conflicts between trees and utility lines and also minimize any impacts to traffic along the street. This is why SDOT requires you to obtain a street tree permit before you plant.

If there are overhead power lines in your planting strip, you must plant a smaller tree species. Trees planted under power lines must be less than 25 feet at maturity to avoid interference with the lines. For a list of appropriate for planting under power lines and along city streets, see SDOT’s list of small trees.

Not only is it within your interest to contact the Utilities Underground Location Center before you plant a tree, it’s also the law. Before you plant your tree, visit Call Before You Dig or 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 to assist them. Utility companies will mark the location of your water, electric, and gas lines. It is important that you do this before the City Arborist arrives for an inspection.

  1. Choosing a tree – Street trees must be planted to the following standards. When selecting your tree species, use SDOT’s street tree list as a guide for your selection.
      • 3 ½ feet back from the face of the curb
      • 5 feet from underground utility lines
      • 10 feet from power poles
      • 7 ½ feet from driveways (10 feet recommended)
      • 20 feet from street lights and other existing trees
      • 30 feet from street intersections
  2. Tree Care – After you receive the permit to plant, you will be responsible for properly planting and maintaining the tree. This includes watering during the hot summer dry season, mulching and pruning.

Not sure if your planting spot is in the right-of-way?
If you don’t know where the right-of-way is on your property, you can use this tool from the Department of Planning and Development. Enter your address and check the box for the parcels and pavement edge layers. If your proposed planting spot falls within these lines (the right-of-way), you must obtain a street tree permit from SDOT before planting.

Other helpful links:
SDOT Street Tree Planting Procedures – including planting tips and appropriate species
SDOT Street Tree Planting Permit
Choosing the Right Tree when Planting Under or Near Power Lines

Want help planting street trees? Consider participating in the City of Seattle’s Trees for Neighborhoods project.

[Content for this post taken from the Seattle reLeaf website. Lots more tree info available there!]