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Everything you need to know about planting a new tree.

So, you want to plant a tree?

It’s April in the Mile High City, and spring has sprung – or at least it’s about to – and with spring so close you can almost smell it, the time is right for successful Denver tree planting. By choosing to plant a tree in Denver, you’re choosing to contribute to Denver’s urban canopy. Here is everything you need to know about planting a new tree.

What type of tree should you plant?

The first thing you might be thinking about is what you want to plant. There are so many trees available, it can get overwhelming. And it’s important to plant a tree that will grow and thrive in its surroundings. Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of some the best trees to plant in Denver, based on our unique climate.

You’ve picked your tree. Now what?

There are a few ways you can go about planting your new tree:

  • Choose a Denver landscape professional or hire an arborist to plant your new tree.
  • Get your hands dirty and plant your tree yourself with these step-by-step instructions from Colorado State University.  
  • If you’re interested in planting a tree in the public right-of-way adjacent to your Denver property, apply for a free tree through Denver’s Office of the City Forester. If your request is approved, we’ll deliver and plant the tree for you!

Keep in mind that regardless of which option you choose, it doesn’t happen overnight – it takes about 2-3 years of ideal conditions for a 2-inch caliper tree to establish. Although it’s a commitment, it’s well worth it. 

When to plant your new tree?

Now! ‘Tis the season for tree planting in Denver. Know why? Milder temperatures are less harsh on young trees when they are first getting established. Another tip: planting trees that are currently dormant or “sleeping,” like they are this time of year, also reduces the tree’s stress when it’s dug from the tree nursery to be transported and replanted in your yard.

Where to plant your tree?

Make sure there’s room for a new tree in your public right-of-way, especially if you’re applying for a free tree.  We recommend following the same spacing guidelines on private property.

Tree vitality tips to ensure your new tree survives

You did the research, you made a commitment and you planted a tree. Now, how can you ensure your tree continues to grow and thrive for many years to come? Here are Denver’s Office of the City Forester’s top tips for tree vitality:

  1. Check soil moisture and water more frequently during periods of drought and prolonged heat, but be careful not to overwater.

  2. Keep a mulch ring around young trees.
    • This keeps tree safe from mower and string trimmer damage, which can be an entry for pests and disease. It also holds moisture in and protects against temperature extremes. It decomposes and adds nutrients to the soil, too! 
  3. Staking is usually unnecessary unless the tree has a severe lean that needs to be corrected or is exposed to high winds, such as in Northeast Denver, where the winds blow a little harder.  

  4. Until your tree is established, you may not see much growth from the crown—that’s normal!

  5. Fertilizing is not recommended.
    • If you want to improve soil conditions, try vertical mulching or adding compost to entire area.
  6. Healthy trees can fight off many pests and small wounds without intervention.
  7. Suckers, or young stems sprouting from the base of your tree’s trunk, indicate a stressed tree, so prune them back and make sure you’re not over or under watering.

  8. If you need additional help caring for your tree, you can hire an experienced arborist to help with pruning, tree removal, emergency tree care, planting and more.

They say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time? Today. So, invest in your own future, your kids’ and grandkids’ future – and the future of the city, too – because when it comes to planting a tree or two in Denver, it benefits us all for generations to come.

8 Great Trees for Denver’s Climate

Part of what makes Denver a great place to live is its altitude and climate. But did you know that because Denver is located in the high plains, our ecosystem is home to very few large, deciduous tree species? These are the trees that make our city shady and provide us with benefits like improving air quality and combatting heat islands. In this blog post, we’ll give you tips on the best trees to plant for Denver’s climate and how these recommendations help our urban canopy.

While Denver’s Office of the City Forester wants all Denver residents and property owners to plant more trees and help grow our urban tree canopy, some trees are simply better equipped than others to survive in our unique climate. And while it’s important to plant new trees here in the city, it’s even more important that those trees survive. To make it easy for you to choose an appropriate tree, we’re providing this handy list of the what’s and why’s for our climate, and which trees are not only best suited to survive, but to thrive, in Denver. 

What makes Denver’s climate challenging for trees?

There are two primary factors that make it challenging for some large trees to thrive in Denver:

  1. Soil: Colorado soils generally have adequate to high iron levels, as evidenced by the many red soils and rock formations. However, Colorado soils are mostly alkaline, causing most of the iron to be in a form not usable by plants.
  2. Water: Denver is also a semi-arid climate, meaning we get some precipitation but not much. Young trees need consistent watering here to establish and thrive, especially during periods of drought and high temperatures.

Which are the best trees to plant in Denver?

Which trees are most likely to thrive in our climate? Here’s our top 8 trees to plant:

  1. Kentucky Coffeetree (large): The Kentucky Coffeetree adapts well to a wide range of soils and urban environments. Its drought and pollution tolerance makes it a great choice for city living, particularly in Denver’s arid climate.
  2. Common Hackberry (large): A shady tree with a widespread crown that turns yellow in the fall, the Common Hackberry is native to North America and withstands winters sturdily.
  3. Northern Catalpa (large): The Northern Catalpa is drought tolerant and grows well in alkaline soil with its large heart-shaped leaves and white flowers in the springtime.
  4. Bur Oak (large): One of the oak tree varieties, the Bur Oak’s most prominent feature is the acorns it grows. It’s often planted in Colorado where it thrives in our climate and soil.
  5. Turkish Filbert (medium): Tolerant of a wide variety of soil conditions, the Turkish Filbert’s leaves turn yellow in the fall and may produce small nuts.
  6. Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn (small): Covered in white flowers in the spring and persistent fruit through the winter, this small tree grows horizontal branches and provides food for birds.
  7. Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry (small): Known for its pretty white flowers in the spring, this small tree is a relatively low maintenance tree and great for attracting birds and bees to your yard.
  8. Amur Maackia (small): A shapely, small tree with beautiful red fall color, the Amur Maackia is very hardy and adaptable to Denver’s climate.

All of these trees are commonly planted through our free tree program. If you have room in your public right-of-way, an arborist will visit your site and make a recommendation for what kind of tree may thrive there.

The Front Range Tree Recommendation List, developed by Colorado State University, is also a helpful resource for seeing how various tree species rate based on the factors of our area. Keep in mind this publication was released in 2010, so while ash trees are included, because of the threat of emerald ash borer, the planting of ash trees is no longer permitted.

What trees don’t do as well here? 

Although beautiful trees that everyone wants on their properties, a few trees shouldn’t be planted in Denver because they’re less likely to thrive in our climate. Here are two to avoid:  

  1. Maples: Maple trees include a number of species that are known for their vibrant colors and notable leaves. However, maples are susceptible to chlorosis, or leaf yellowing due to insufficient iron. This happens often to maples here in Denver due to our alkaline soil. Maples also have thin bark which makes young trees especially susceptible to damage due to sunscald. And finally, maples are not very drought tolerant, which can be a challenge in our semi-arid climate.
  2. Aspens: Aspens are native to higher altitudes, which is why we all make trips to the mountains to see their fall color. They thrive in areas that aren’t as hot and have different soil conditions than we have here in Denver. Aspens in the metro area are more susceptible to pests and diseases and have inherently shorter lives.

How do I navigate the conversation with my landscape professional on what to plant?

It’s always best to show up informed to a meeting with your landscape professional. Bring this article, the Front Range Recommended Tree List or the Forestry-Approved Street Tree List to help guide you. In addition to coming informed on what trees are best for Denver’s climate, you should also show up with an idea of what tree values are most important to you:

  • Shade – look to large species with dense canopy
  • Aesthetic – look for species that flower/you enjoy the look of 
  • Wildlife – look for species that provide fruit/flowers for wildlife/pollinators 
  • Xeriscape – look for more drought tolerant species 
  • Space – limited space requires ornamental or medium sized trees 

Make sure your landscape professional is considering sunlight, soil, irrigation, surrounding tree diversity and distance from structures and other trees to pick the best tree for your location.

Above all, just remember the mantra, “right tree, right place.”

Arborists: The Unsung Tree-Care Pros Who Keep Our Trees Growing Strong and Living Long

The weather is slowly warming up, birds are more frequently chirping and the sun’s setting later—which means spring must be approaching in the coming months. This also means it’s time to start preparing for your spring gardening and tree care needs. And no one is better equipped to help get your trees ready for spring than a tree care professional, also known as an arborist.

What is an arborist?

An arborist is a specially trained tree care professional who has expertise on how to plant, care for and maintain trees. In order to perform tree work in Denver, all contractors must be licensed and insured by the city. Licensed arborists help the City of Denver and property owners maintain private and public trees through tree removal, pruning of dead, diseased or damaged branches, and treatment of insects and diseases. This maintenance helps ensure our urban forest remains heathy and resilient and prevents potential damage to our properties, city rights-of-way and utilities.

What does an arborist do?

Think of arborists like a primary care provider for your trees. They can help assess a tree’s condition, provide recommendations based upon the needs of the species and complete the necessary work, ensuring the health of the tree. Services arborists can provide include:

  • Pruning: Arborists can help you determine what kind of pruning your tree needs, including improvement of health, appearance and safety of the tree. This may include removing limbs that interfere with utilities or structures or obstruct streets or sidewalks. While some pruning can be done on your own, if you’re pruning a large branch or anything from your tree that can’t be reached from the ground, be sure to hire a tree care professional.
  • Tree removal: Some trees, like ash trees, are susceptible to an invasive insect called Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) which impacts all ash species and quickly kills untreated trees.  If you need assistance removing a right-of-way ash tree, Denver’s Office of the City Forester can potentially help through the Ash Tree GAP removal and replacement program. Thyronectria Canker is increasingly common on honeylocusts and is easily spread between trees if pruning equipment isn’t properly disinfected between cuts.
  • Emergency tree care: Removing or pruning storm-damaged trees may be necessary after severe weather events to keep trees healthy and to ensure broken or damaged limbs don’t pose a risk to you or the public’s safety.
  • Planting: Arborists can also help with getting a new tree off to a healthy start by assisting with planting and creating a care plan that you can implement with ease. If you’re interested in planting a tree in the public right-of-way adjacent to your Denver property, you can apply for a free tree.

Why should I hire an arborist?

Trees are assets on our properties. They provide natural beauty year-round, summertime shade and a place for our flying friends to rest their wings. They increase the value of our homes, provide numerous environmental benefits and improve our quality of life and mental health. They’re also an investment—meaning they require proper and regular care. When it comes to caring for your tree, arborists are specially trained and equipped to perform the necessary work.

Depending on what’s required, tree work may be dangerous for homeowners to perform themselves. Licensed arborists are insured and specially trained in safety precautions while treating trees and will come to your property prepared with the appropriate equipment and training to keep themselves, the public and your property safe while caring for your trees. Every tree is unique, and each requires a different plan of care.

What should I look for when hiring an arborist?

When looking to hire tree care professionals, you may want to make sure the company has an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborist on staff. This certification ensures an individual is proficient in the competencies needed for proper tree care. ISA Certified Arborists have knowledge in areas like tree biology, diagnosis, maintenance practices, proper safety procedures and other subject and practical areas within the tree care industry.

Where can I find an arborist in Denver?

Denver’s Office of the City Forester provides a helpful list of tree care professionals in Denver.

Professional, trained arborists know how to properly maintain trees for the safety of the public and the health of the tree. The best way to ensure your tree stays healthy is to hire a professional arborist. Watch this video to learn more about arborists.

Denver Digs Trees Program Offers Low-Cost and Free Trees to Denver Residents

In addition to our own free tree program, we’re thrilled to share that our friends at The Park People are here to help Denver residents plant trees again this year with their Denver Digs Trees program. The program is offering over 1,000 new trees to Denver residents, businesses, nonprofits and schools, with nine beautiful and unique species available. Trees cost between $10 and $35, though residents may qualify for a free tree if cost is prohibitive. Anyone is welcome to apply, but the tree must be planted within Denver city and county limits.

Why you should apply for Denver Digs Trees

Here in Denver, we continue to see the impacts of climate change with record-breaking heat and long periods of drought. Trees help to mitigate climate change by cooling our neighborhoods, reducing energy use, capturing and cleaning stormwater runoff, filtering air pollutants and more. They are essential for a healthy city and community, and each tree in our city works to combat the urban heat island effect. Planting a tree is a tangible way to take action now to address the changing climate, while also cooling your home, adding value to your property, shading your street and bringing beauty to your community for generations to come.

How to apply for Denver Digs Trees

Do you have a Denver address, 10 minutes to spare and an interest in taking action to improve the quality of life in our communities and grow our urban canopy? If so, apply at The Park People’s website: https://theparkpeople.org/What-We-Do/Denver-Digs-Trees or call 303-722-6262 for a paper application. The application deadline is Feb. 15, 2022, or while supplies last. Trees go fast, so make sure you apply early! Trees will be available for pick up and planting in April. The Park People offers planting and care workshops before the event and upon pick up, volunteers will work with you to ensure you love your tree and know how to properly care for it.

Contact info@TheParkPeople.org or 303-722-6262 for questions or more information about the Denver Digs Trees program. The Denver Digs Trees program is just one way you can add a tree to your Denver property for low or no cost. For more information about three additional ways to get a free tree in Denver this year read more in our blog post.

Winter Watering Guide: Caring for Newly Planted Trees During the Winter

Why is winter watering vital? 

In the fall and winter, trees drop their leaves and become dormant as they prepare for colder temperatures. However, newly planted trees experience the greatest growth in their root system during this time. Colorado often experiences dry periods during winter (two or more weeks without snow cover), which can leave roots susceptible to drying out, causing tree death or severe root damage. Not watering throughout the winter is the largest contributing factor to the mortality of newly planted trees. It is best to slowly give any newly planted trees 10-15 gallons of water before putting the hose away for the winter and to supplement with 10-15 gallons of water during dry periods and when temperatures are above 40 degrees. Do not water when temperatures are near or below freezing.   

Watering routine: 

  • Before winter: Continue to water your tree(s) until the ground freezes. Slowly (trickle over several hours) give your newly planted tree 10-15 gallons of water. Don’t forget to disconnect your hose so that it doesn’t freeze.  
  • During winter: Water your tree twice a month, with 10-15 gallons of water if the ground isn’t frozen. This is best done when the temperature is around 40 degrees and at mid-day to allow water to soak in before the ground freezes at night. Continue to check the moisture level of the root ball (the main mass of roots directly beneath the trunk), especially during long periods without snow cover.  

  • Following spring and summer: Continue to water the trees(s) once a week with 10-15 gallons of water and more when the weather is dry, windy or we have prolonged periods of drought and sunshine.   

Additional tree care tips for the winter: 

  • Mulch the base: Apply 2 to 4 inches of wood chips, bark or other organic mulch near the base of the tree, but not against it, to reduce soil evaporation, improve water absorption and insulate against temperature extremes. Some community recycling programs like Denver Recycles provide wood chips free of charge.  

Proper tree care during the winter months is crucial for tree health and survival. Following these watering and tree care tips can help your trees continue to grow and thrive. For additional information, read more from the Colorado State Forest Service on winter tree watering.

Three Easy Steps to Composting Your Leaves This Fall

Autumn is nearly upon us and soon your trees’ leaves will be falling. It’s the perfect time to plan ahead for what you can do with those leaves that’s easy and free for residents, and best for our city and our planet.

1. Before raking up your leaves, use this coupon to pick up a pack of free compostable paper bags specifically for leaf collection. Free 5-packs of paper leaf bags are available at participating Denver-area Ace Hardware stores.

2. While you are raking up your leaves, keep an eye out for ash leaves — they are brightly-colored leaves. Use these tips to confirm whether they’re ash.

Why focus on ash leaves? Unfortunately, the threat of losing Denver’s ash trees – which make up one in six of Denver’s trees – is inching ever-nearer with the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) recently spreading to our neighbors in Arvada, Westminster, Broomfield and Larimer County. To prevent EAB from devastating Denver’s ash tree population, we need your help to keep an eye out for signs of EAB infestation and take action to protect your ash trees and our Denver urban canopy.

3. Keep your raked leaves out of the landfill and compost them for free through Denver’s LeafDrop program. Weekday sites will open to Denver residents Oct. 4. Weekend drop-off sites will open Oct. 30. Remember, when dropping off your raked leaves, use paper bags – they can also be composted!

Tips for Watering Trees in Denver

In Denver’s semi-arid climate, trees and water are both precious resources. However, with a few expert tips, you can preserve mature trees on your property and establish new trees that will help grow our urban canopy, diminish heat islands and combat the arrival of Emerald Ash Borer

Does my tree need more water? 

In most cases, sprinkler irrigation and natural moisture from the occasional rainstorm do not provide consistent moisture for trees in Denver. It can be difficult, however, to tell whether a tree needs additional water simply by looking at it, so follow these tips to determine your tree’s needs: 

Stick your finger into the soil at the base of your tree:

  • If it easily penetrates, the tree is adequately watered 
  • If it’s difficult to penetrate the dirt, the tree needs more water 
  • If you observe standing water in the hole when you pull your finger out, the tree is over-watered, which can be as damaging as under-watering 

 A soil moisture meter is another option for determining a tree’s watering needs.

How much water does my tree need? 

Once you’ve determined that your tree needs more water, there are some standard guidelines for determining exactly how much. Regardless of the tree’s age, a tree in a non-irrigated area needs 10 gallons of water per week per inch of trunk diameter. For example, a two-inch diameter tree requires 20 gallons of water per week. This can be spaced out over two to three days per week. 

An easy way to match your watering technique to your tree’s needs is to put a hose on a low-pressure setting and put it into a 5-gallon bucket (commonly found at home improvement stores), then time how long it takes to fill the bucket. Once you know the timing for your watering system, start a clock and move your hose around the base of your tree. 

How do I effectively water my tree? 

A simple hose is the most basic tool needed to water your tree, but soaker hoses, soft spray nozzles and soil needles can help break through the soil surface. Most absorbing tree roots are found in the first 12-inches of soil depth, so be sure water is applied slowly and has time to absorb into the soil and reach these vital roots.  

Adding mulch around the base of your tree is a simple and effective way to help retain moisture. A maximum mulch depth of three- to five-inches is optimal, but be careful not to let the mulch directly contact the trunk of the tree. 

Additional resources 

Before you begin any watering program, it’s important to get familiar with Denver Water’s summer outdoor watering rules, which take into account our high summer temperatures and recent drought conditions. And while hand-watering trees is not restricted, we encourage following the recommended watering times of between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. to optimize your efforts.

The Colorado State University (CSU) Extension is also a great resource for tree care and other home landscaping needs, including seasonal watering recommendations that are customized to our unique Colorado climate.

Local foresters use trees to combat extreme heat in Denver’s historically underserved neighborhoods (Rocky Mountain PBS)

Denver City Forester Mike Swanson recently spoke with Rocky Mountain PBS on how the lack of trees in certain areas of Denver has resulted in the creation of heat islands. Heat islands are urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas.

How does Denver’s Office of the City Forester plan to combat the heat? By planting trees, of course. 

Learn more here.

Signs of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB)

One in six trees in Denver are ash trees and, if we do nothing, it’s just a matter of time before they’ll ALL be devoured by the emerald ash borer (EAB). 

EAB feasts only on ash trees (Genus Fraxinus), including the green and white varieties which are most common in the City and County of Denver.

How to identify an ash tree:

Diamond-pattern Bark

While this identification method may not be as helpful when it comes to young ash trees (they typically have smoother bark), the bark on more mature ash trees tends to have distinct diamond patterns.

Compound Leaves

A simple leaf is defined as a single leaf that has a bud at the base of the leaf stem. Conversely, a compound leaf (the sort you’re looking for on an ash tree) is defined as having more than one leaflet per leaf connecting to a stem that has a bud at its base. Ash tree leaves typically have 5-9 leaflets per leaf. This photo is showing one ash leaf, with 7 leaflets.

Opposite Branching

By opposite branching, we mean the branches protruding from tree limbs have a mate protruding from the exact opposite side of the same limb. Only ash, maple, dogwood and horse chestnut trees have opposite branching.

How to tell if an ash tree is infested with EAB:

There are several signs to be aware of. S-shaped tunnels can be seen on the trunk under the bark layer and tiny, D-shaped exit holes are often visible in the bark. Additionally, impacted trees show signs of thinning and bark shedding. Dying ash trees also attract Northern Flickers, a type of large, brown woodpecker. The tree takes time to show signs of stress and often dieback begins towards the top of the tree, so it can take 2-4 years for trees to show any signs of infestation.

What does the emerald ash borer look like:

It’s small enough to fit on a penny, so you are unlikely to get a chance to examine one individually. If you do, the adult EAB is identifiable by its dark, metallic-green color and coppery-red or purple abdomen, which can be seen under its wings.

What should you do if you have an ash tree or discover EAB? Go here for more information. 

Tres maneras de conseguir un árbol gratis en Denver

Sea un fresno inteligente

Desde el inicio de la campaña “Be a Smart Ash”, la Oficina de Silvicultura de la Ciudad les ha plantado miles de árboles gratis a los residentes de Denver en la extensión de vía pública que corresponde a su propiedad. Es fácil hacer la solicitud en línea. Un profesional en arboricultura evaluará minuciosamente su espacio y determinará el mejor tipo de árbol para su propiedad. Si usted reúne los requisitos, le entregarán el nuevo árbol y lo plantarán. Además, le darán instrucciones específicas sobre cómo brindar los mejores cuidados inmediatos a su árbol para que crezca sano. El programa está abierto a propietarios de viviendas unifamiliares en toda la ciudad de Denver.

Programa GAP

Dado que en Denver uno de cada seis árboles es un fresno, es indudable que cuando aparezca el barrenador esmeralda del fresno (“EAB” por su sigla en inglés) se perderán algunos ejemplares, con lo cual quedarán brechas notables en nuestra bella cubierta arbórea. Para combatir de forma proactiva el EAB y prevenir las inevitables brechas en el arbolado, la Oficina de Silvicultura de la Ciudad puso en marcha el Programa de Retirada y Sustitución de Fresnos GAP para retirar y sustituir los fresnos más pequeños y en mal estado que hay en la vía pública por toda la ciudad. Los residentes interesados en este programa pueden presentar una solicitud en línea.

Iniciativa comunitaria por la silvicultura

En 2021, la Oficina de Silvicultura de la Ciudad de Denver inauguró la Iniciativa comunitaria por la silvicultura, que se dedica a podar o extraer los árboles que representan un riesgo para la seguridad del público.  Este programa opera en los vecindarios más necesitados.

Los propietarios de viviendas de los vecindarios más necesitados, que tengan un árbol peligroso que haya sido identificado por un inspector forestal para recibir mantenimiento gratuito, recibirán una carta y una tarjeta postal de la Oficina de Silvicultura de la Ciudad en la que se explicará a qué servicio(s) tienen derecho y cómo obtenerlos.

Los árboles gratuitos provistos por la Oficina de Silvicultura de la Ciudad son un servicio público y se deben plantar en la vía pública, pero eso no quiere decir que no deba aprovechar la oportunidad de plantar un árbol en su patio. Le recomendamos que recurra a un profesional en cuidado de árboles para que le brinde ayuda al evaluar y cuidar sus árboles existentes y nuevos, ya sean fresnos o de otro tipo.

Para obtener más información sobre cualquiera de estos programas, envíe un correo electrónico a tree@denvergov.org o llame a la Oficina de Silvicultura de Denver al 720-913-0651.