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Street tree frequently asked questions

What is the difference between a street tree and a yard tree?

A street tree is a tree planted in the sidewalk or a planting strip in the public right-of-way. A yard tree is planted in the ground on private property. If you want a yard tree, visit the TreePhilly program page.

Who owns the street trees?

The City of Philadelphia has jurisdiction over street trees, but the trees are owned by the property owner.

Who is responsible for street trees?

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation manages all street trees (as well as park trees) in the city of Philadelphia and is responsible for planting, pruning, and removing street trees. Most of this work is done by contracted arborists overseen by Parks & Rec.

How do I get a street tree pruned or removed?

Parks & Rec prunes and removes hazardous street trees for free. You can request service online or by calling (215) 685-4363 or (215) 685-4362.

Parks & Rec does not prune or remove trees on private property, in vacant lots, or in alleyways. We are also not able to remove living, healthy trees. Property owners are able to hire certified arborists to do this work at their own expense.

Who chooses the street tree?

Residents can request a particular species, but the Parks & Rec arborist who visits the site makes the final determination. There are many factors that go into choosing a street tree: Parks & Rec chooses a variety of species and looks at the surroundings–are there overhead wires, telephone poles, driveways?–all of which determine what the species will be and whether the species should be large, medium, small, or columnar. Check out the City of Philadelphia’s recommended street tree list.

What are some of the stresses on street trees?

The biggest stress on new trees is not getting enough water. Stresses on street trees in general include car doors banging into the tree’s trunk, branches getting torn off (wounds allow insects and disease to enter), road salt, dog feces (dog feces are high in acidity and nitrates which are harmful to trees), pollution, harmful insects, and disease.

What can residents do to help care for their street tree?

Residents can water their new street trees with 10-15 gallons of water each week between April and December, but not if the soil is frozen. A slow, deep soaking of the soil around the tree is best. One of the biggest stresses on newly planted street trees is not getting enough water. Residents can also remove weeds from the tree pit and should not plant anything (other than the tree) in the tree pit. Weeds, flowers and ground cover compete for water, nutrients, and root space and can put stress on your street tree. Residents can help by being careful with car doors and bikes, which can damage the protective bark. To do anything more to your street trees, such as major pruning or removing, you must obtain a permit. Contact Parks & Rec when you observe a problem.

Will the tree roots get into my house’s pipes?

Tree roots can find their way into a sewer lateral, but normally that occurs only after the lateral has begun to break down as a result of age, settlement, or other factors. Most of a tree’s root system is concentrated in the top 12 – 24 inches of soil directly beneath the concrete sidewalk. A home’s sewer lateral, beneath the sidewalk slab, is an average of 6 to 7 feet below ground, and offers a buffer of soil and fill between the lateral and the tree.

Who do I call when there is a problem?

To report a problem with your street tree, submit a service request through Philly 311, or call Parks & Rec’s Street Tree Management division at (215) 685-4363 or (215) 685-4362. If it is after normal working hours, leave a voice mail message. Parks & Rec staff will send someone within 7-10 working days to look at it. Hours are 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except City holidays.

If it is an emergency, call 911.

Examples of emergencies are a tree or branch falls and is blocking access to the sidewalk or street; a tree or branch falls on your roof or car. Someone from Parks & Rec will be dispatched.

Will Parks & Rec remove a tree I don’t like?

No. Parks & Rec does not remove healthy, living trees. There has to be a valid problem for the tree to be removed.

What if the tree is breaking up my sidewalk?

The Philadelphia Code states that the property owner is responsible for maintaining their sidewalks in a safe condition. There are no exceptions for damage to sidewalks caused by tree roots. If a street tree is breaking up the sidewalk, Parks & Rec will come out to look at it. Parks & Rec will make a decision on a case-by-case basis, according to the condition of the tree and what’s going on around it. If healthy, the tree will not be replaced. If unhealthy, it may be listed for removal and/or replacement. The removal of the tree may take some time. A property owner can remove a tree before that time with a Parks & Rec-approved contractor.

Often the solution is for the property owner to replace the paving. If a property owner wishes to repair a sidewalk block without the removal of the tree, he or she can do so provided that the roots of the tree are not damaged.

Will Parks & Rec take care of a problem with a tree in my yard?

No. The department is not responsible for trees growing in yards. Trees growing in the yard are the property owner’s responsibility.

What about trees growing in alleyways?

Trees growing in alleyways are the property owner’s responsibility.

Who manages the street trees of Philadelphia?

Parks & Rec’s Urban Forestry Street Tree Management unit manages the component of the urban forest (curbside/street trees) along streets in the city. It is responsible for the following:

  • Inspecting and recommending plantings on all park and recreation land with the exception of the watershed parks
  • Inspecting trees for signs of proper maintenance and care
  • Diagnosing tree diseases, pests and environmental stresses
  • Determining sites and species for tree planting requests
  • Performing hazardous tree evaluations for tree removal requests
  • Performing block inspections for inventory purposes
  • Managing contracts for tree planting, pruning, and removals
  • Reviewing and managing all requests for tree services, including
    responding to emergency calls of fallen trees on roadways, homes or cars
  • Reviewing construction plans and recommending preservation of existing trees and preparing street tree plans for construction sites