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Three Ways to Get a Free Tree in Denver

Be A Smart Ash

Since the launch of Be A Smart Ash, the Office of the City Forester has planted thousands of free trees in the public right-of-way for Denver residents. Applying online is easy, and a tree professional will carefully evaluate your space, determine the appropriate tree for your property and, if you qualify, the new tree will be delivered and planted along with specific instructions on how to immediately provide the best care for your tree to ensure a healthy future. This program is open to property owners residing in single-family residential properties across the city of Denver.

GAP Program

Since one in six trees in Denver is an ash, it’s certain that when emerald ash borer (EAB) is discovered here, there will be some tree loss, leaving noticeable gaps in our beautiful tree canopy. To proactively combat EAB and prevent inevitable tree gaps, the Office of the City Forester launched the GAP Ash Removal & Replacement Program to remove and replace smaller, poor-condition ash trees in the public right-of-way throughout the city. Residents interested in this program can apply online.

Forestry Neighborhood Initiative

In 2021, Denver’s Office of the City Forester launched the Denver Forestry Neighborhood Initiative, which is dedicated to pruning or removing trees that pose a risk to public safety.  This program operates in neighborhoods of greatest need.

Property owners in neighborhoods of greatest need, who have a hazard tree that has been identified by a forestry inspector for free tree maintenance, will receive a letter and postcard from the Office of the City Forester outlining which service(s) they qualify for and how to obtain them.

The free trees provided by the Office of the City Forester are a public amenity and must be planted in the public right-of-way, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the opportunity to plant a tree in your yard. We strongly encourage you to enlist a tree care professional to help you evaluate and care for your existing and new trees – ash or otherwise.

For more information about any of these programs, email or call the Denver Office of the City Forester at 720-913-0651.

Para español –

Help the Office of the City Forester Protect and Diversify Our Urban Forest: Become a Smart Ash

By Office of the City Forester Operations Assistant Lexi Brewer


The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is an invasive insect first discovered in the United States near Detroit in 2002.

It’s believed that EAB likely arrived in the United States on lumber in cargo ships originating from its native Asia. It has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America and has been discovered in over 35 states, including Colorado. In fact, it’s been found in surrounding metro areas including Boulder and Arvada, so it’s just a matter of time before it is discovered in Denver. All ash trees that are infested with EAB eventually die because the larvae feed under the bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. Because of this, the dieback of the tree is a slow process, starting at the top of the tree. Since one in six of Denver’s trees are ash, Denver’s Office of the City Forester has been proactively preparing and planning for the EAB’s inevitable arrival for more than five years through planting, tree removal and replacement, and treatment activities.

Be A Smart Ash Program

With guidance from management practices such as “Slow Ash Mortality” and experiences learned from states like Michigan that have battled EAB for nearly 15 years, the Office of the City Forester created the Be A Smart Ash program in 2016 to drive awareness and inspire the community to take action to protect the ash trees on their property. Depending on the condition of the ash tree, homeowners are encouraged to either treat their tree with insecticide or remove and replace it with a new, non-ash tree. The arborists at the Office of the City Forester are happy to assist homeowners in determining the best care for their trees.


The only way to ensure that ash trees survive EAB is to have them treated with insecticide, of which there are a variety of options. Homeowners can visit to find out more information on how to treat their private property trees. For public ash trees, the Office of the City Forester is actively taking steps to treat ash trees in public spaces and in the public right-of-way within our city. The Forestry team is now on Cycle Six of treatment, meaning many trees in public spaces or in the public right-of-way are receiving repeated treatment.

If homeowners decide to keep and maintain their ash trees, there are three main treatment methods: trunk injection, soil drench or bark spray.

Trunk Injection: A licensed pesticide applicator drills a hole in the base of the tree and injects the tree with an insecticide. The insecticide is conducted by the tree’s vascular system and ultimately into the cambium layer. Since the EAB larvae hatch and feed on the cambium layer, this stops the spread by preventing the larvae from becoming reproductive adults. When properly administered by a licensed tree care professional, some trunk injections have shown to be 90% effective at controlling EAB, making this the most effective treatment option.

Soil Drench: A licensed pesticide applicator will clear the area beneath a tree and then apply liquid or granules that are then watered-in. This allows the tree to soak up insecticide through its  root system.

Bark Spray: A licensed pesticide applicator sprays up to 18 inches from the soil up the trunk. This insecticide soaks through the bark and is transferred to the leaves of the tree. This helps to stop the spread of EAB as it targets the adults who feed on the leaves of the tree.

Removal and Replacement

Ash trees that are left untreated will eventually succumb to EAB. With this in mind, it may be more effective to remove ash trees that are already dead or dying and replace them with new, healthy trees (not another ash). In 2020, Denver’s Office of the City Forester created the Ash GAP Program to remove and replace smaller, poor-condition ash trees in the public right-of-way throughout the city, encouraging homeowners in target neighborhoods to opt-in to the program. The City is targeting small diameter ash trees in poor condition because trees that are already stressed are particularly vulnerable to EAB. It is also recommended to remove smaller ash trees and replace them with a species not susceptible to EAB, as ashes will need proactive EAB treatment throughout their entire life in order to survive an EAB infestation.

In 2021, the program is focusing on Denver’s southwest and northeast neighborhoods, although anyone interested in this program can apply at Removing unhealthy ash trees from the urban forest not only promotes a healthy forest, it removes a food source that EAB would feed on while eliminating unhealthy trees that would be targets for EAB.


Of course, planting and maintaining new trees is the best way to have a resilient, healthy forest. New plantings will help fill any gaps in the canopy after the demise of ash trees from EAB. Planting for diversity also increases the resistance of Denver’s urban forest to any potential future pests. The Office of the City Forester has always encouraged qualifying homeowners to apply for a free tree. Since the start of the BASA program along with other programs, the Forestry team has planted over 2,000 trees a year in Denver. Any Denver resident who has adequate space in their public right-of-way is encouraged to apply for a free tree at

Want to learn more? Become a Smart Ash and join us in our fight against EAB!

Tips and Tricks for Pruning Your Trees

By Urban Forestry Operations Assistant Paul Cancik

With spring upon us, many residents are eagerly planning their gardens and starting to spruce up their yards. Pruning helps trees live longer, which allows them to grow taller and contribute to Denver’s urban canopy. With this in mind, Denver’s Office of the City Forester is offering helpful tips for pruning. It’s important to keep in mind that if you cannot safely prune your tree from the ground, it’s best to hire a licensed tree care professional since they use specialized equipment and have the necessary field knowledge. When you prune a tree, you are planning for the future, and with patience, you will ultimately have results that benefit generations to come.

Why should you prune your trees?

  • Pruning helps ensure that your tree develops a strong form/structure and prevents breakage in the future. 
  • Thinning your tree makes the crown (top) healthier by allowing more air and sunlight to pass through it. 
  • Pruning, much like watering, helps give your tree longevity; future generations will be able to enjoy it.
  • Removing deadwood from your tree helps prevent insect infestation.
  • If pruning is neglected, a tree can become susceptible to breakage, making the tree potentially dangerous.

What should you prune from your trees? 

  • Follow the “3 D’s” of pruning: only remove Dead, Damaged and Diseased wood, especially if the tree is not established. You can also prune branches that impact the structural integrity of the tree. 
  • Be deliberate about what you prune from a tree. 
  • It’s important to prune around stop signs and to ensure sidewalks are clear to prevent accidents on or near your property. Stop signs should be clearly visible and sidewalks free of obstructions. The clearance requirements in Denver are 8’ above sidewalks and 13.5’ above streets and alleys.

When should you prune your trees?

  • While you may prune your tree year-round, ideally the best time to prune is late in the dormant season or early spring, before leaves form. This is typically a good time to remove excess or undesired branches because the tree is not putting forth energy to create foliage.
  • Certain trees, including American elm (Dutch elm disease) and fruit trees in the rose family (fire blight) should only be pruned while dormant to reduce the spread of disease.
  • Only prune a young tree two years after it has been planted and just focus on dead, broken, crossing and interfering branches.  

Tips for pruning:

  • Make sure that every pruning cut you make is clean and smooth. The best tool to use for pruning is a pair of sharp bypass hand pruners for one-inch branches because they make smaller cuts that the tree can recover from faster.
  • Colorado has a very short growing season compared to other regions. A shorter growing season means the tree has a shorter period of time to create and store energy, which ultimately affects how quickly a tree can recover from pruning. A young established tree can tolerate removal of 1/3 of its foliage in a growing season. A mature tree should never have more than 25% of its live foliage removed in one growing season. 
  • If you are pruning something off your tree that you can’t reach from the ground, it’s advised that you hire a tree care professional since they use specialized equipment such as an aerial lift truck/bucket truck and they have the needed field knowledge and expertise. In the City of Denver, tree contractors are required to be licensed and insured. A list of Denver’s licensed tree contractors can be found by visiting
  • If you suspect an insect problem, contact a tree care professional to develop the most effective and environmentally conscious solution. 
  • Covering a wound or using wound dressings is not recommended and may be detrimental to tree health.

Want to learn more? Our friends at The Park People offer a community forester program with classes that cover a variety of topics, including pruning and tree planting basics. You can sign up here:

 Happy pruning!

The Importance of Winter Tree Maintenance

By Michael Swanson, City Forester, Denver Parks and Recreation

As winter approaches, many Denverites are preparing for the cold months ahead by blowing out their sprinkler systems and composting their leaves. But many mistakenly think their trees are self-sufficient and that the snow, when it comes, will provide enough moisture to sustain them until spring. That’s unfortunately not the case. Trees need water year-round, especially in our arid climate.

Here are a few signs that your trees may be in distress and tips for how to winterize your trees to help them stay healthy year-round:

Signs of tree in distress:

  • Trees that exhibit premature autumn color or shed leaves prematurely
  • Advantageous shoot growth along the branches and/or trunk of the tree or near the base of tree
  • Deadwood throughout the crown of the tree

Tips for your trees in winter months:

  • Use 20 gallons of water per week for every inch of diameter of tree (for instance, a 2-inch diameter tree needs 40 gallons of water in a one-week period). A new tree will need focused watering atop the root ball and then throughout the rest of the planting area.
  • Don’t forget that even when it’s 40 degrees or warmer, your tree still requires watering.
  • Apply mulch around the tree, leaving a six-inch gap between the tree trunk and the start of the mulch; mulch should extend by a three-to-four-foot radius from the trunk of the tree or to dripline (whichever comes first).
  • Portions of Southern or Southwestern-facing trees are subject to sun scald. Sun scald is the damage that occurs to living cells just underneath the bark of a tree due to the day-and-night fluctuations during Colorado’s winter months. Signs of damage include discolored and/or cracked bark or sunken areas within the bark. This is a serious byproduct of our warm winter days. To avoid this, you can wrap your tree’s trunk using materials such as cloth or tree wrap available at a hardware store. Butcher paper is a great tool as it’s waterproof and removes/absorbs some of the energy that the sun produces.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of emerald ash borer (EAB), which has destroyed millions of ash trees in the Midwest, has been discovered in Boulder and recently in Arvada and will inevitably arrive in Denver sometime in the near future. There are an estimated 1.45 million ash trees in the Denver metro area, including 330,000 in the City and County of Denver. That means that one in six Denver trees are ash trees, and they can be found everywhere in the Mile High City – with the majority on residential properties.
  • Become familiar with the Be A Smart Ash campaign, which aims to actively educate and enlist the help of you – our City and County of Denver residents – in the process of identifying, treating and replacing ash trees. 
  • Check out this interactive tree inventory map and information about ash tree treatment options and resources to find a tree care professional

Recommended tree care supplies include:

  • Water device (such as a soft spray wand) for winter watering (can also be used year-round)
  • Soil moisture meter (it tells you when the soil is dry and needs water)
  • A hose (make sure it’s the right length to reach your trees if they are a long distance from your spigot)
  • Tree wrap
  • Pruning shears to remove dead wood
  • Gloves
  • Compost comprised of organic food scraps and yard waste (use it on your trees, grass or flower beds when you are refreshing your mulch; when using compost with your trees, do not apply more than a quarter inch per year within the dripline of the tree, and make sure the compost does not come into contact with the trunk of the tree or roots)

Learn more about winter tree care by watching the third episode of Water, Trees, Life.

William Carlos Williams once eloquently wrote: “…having prepared their buds against a sure winter, the wise trees stand sleeping in the cold.” Let’s help our trees prepare for winter slumber so we can enjoy their healthy urban canopy next year and for years to come.


Water, Trees, Life Livestream: Fall Colors & Leaf Bags

Welcome to the Water, Trees, Life livestream!

Grab your family and friends for this interactive, educational show from the Be A Smart Ash team. Each livestream brings the natural world of Denver into the comfort and safety of your living room. The third episode in the series debuted on Friday, October 16 at 11 AM on the Denver Parks & Recreation Facebook page, but you can watch the episode in its entirety above.

In Episode 3, leaf-peeping season is in full swing, and we want to help you enjoy it. We discuss the importance of winter watering for your trees, explore the beautiful fall colors and provide tips about how to protect your ash trees from Emerald Ash Borer. We also explain how you can turn your fall leaves into EcoGro compost, available locally from Ace Hardware. See previous episodes here.

Denver Ash Tree Removal and Replacement

Knowing you Denverites are likely spending more time at home and in your yards than in previous summers, we want to help you learn more about how you can help protect and preserve Denver’s urban canopy and specifically, what the City Forestry team is doing this year to help combat a relentless ash tree insect.

You may be familiar with the Be A Smart Ash program, and you may have heard that the threat of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) on 1 in 6 of Denver’s trees is imminent. The Q&A below will help explain what the City Forestry team is doing in select neighborhoods to combat EAB; i.e. removing ash trees in poor condition in your right-of-way and how they will replace that tree with a free tree – regardless of whether you have an ash tree – to help bolster and diversify our precious urban canopy. 

Read more

Water, Trees, Life Livestream: Discover Denver’s Urban Forest

Welcome to the Water, Trees, Life livestream!

Grab your family and friends for this interactive, educational show from the Be A Smart Ash team. Each livestream brings the natural world of Denver into the comfort and safety of your living room. The second episode in the series debuted on Friday, July 17 at 11 AM on the Denver Parks & Recreation Facebook page, but you can watch the episode in its entirety above.

In Episode 2, we visited the often-overlooked 14,000 acres of Denver Mountain Parks to explore the relationship between forest ecology and Denver’s drinking water. We then took a trip back down to the city to learn about how we can plant trees to make parks more accessible. Finally, we spoke with a wildlife expert about our urban beaver population — that’s right, Denver has beavers!

Read more

How to Protect and Preserve Denver’s Urban Canopy

Michael Swanson, City Forester, Denver Parks and Recreation, wrote about how his forestry team is taking care of ash trees located on city property (including parks) and in the public right-of-way.

Learn how you can personally contribute to the effort to protect and preserve Denver’s urban canopy here.

Water, Trees, Life

Join the forestry team from Denver Parks and Recreation as they guide us through three stories about the natural world in Denver and a discussion about how we help our urban canopy thrive.