How to Care for Your NYC Street Tree, and Strengthen Democracy

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Flickr /Simon Ruf / UN Social Media Team

Volunteers care for a tree at a workshop hosted by MillionTreesNYC.


City Limits is participating along with hundreds of news organizations around the world on climate-related stories in the week leading up to the United Nations Climate Summit. More at #CoveringClimateNow.


It’s #climateweek so we’re thinking about the stuff that’s growing in our New York City ecosystem. 

Did you know there are over 600,000 trees in the city? Trees filter our dirty air. Neighborhoods with trees are cooler and more able to accommodate flooding—important capacities as the city faces a changing climate. 

City Limits received a comment from a reader recently, asking about an ailing tree on her block. She had reported it to the city but nothing was happening. What could she do? 

Reader, you did the right thing: Call 311 to report a street tree that needs some love and the Parks Department will follow up. It might take some time, but the agency will respond, says Maria Amin, outreach supervisor at the Parks Department. According to the Mayor’s Management Report, in the fiscal year that ended last June, the department inspected 82,376 street trees–a 50 percent increase over the previous year. It pruned nearly 71,000 of those trees and removed more than 13,000.

While the Parks Department is responsible for caring for the city’s street trees, all New Yorkers can help them grow. 

“Trees that show signs of any kind of stewardship do better than trees that don’t,” First Deputy Commissioner at the Parks Department Liam Kavanagh said at a recent City Limits event, where he said taking care of a street tree is the best way individual New Yorkers can work to protect biodiversity here 

You can start caring for your nearest street tree yourself. There are several ways. 

 A Parks Department stewardship program hosts weekly workshops in neighborhoods throughout the city that will teach you everything you need to know about street tree care. Find the schedule here. 

If you’re a go-getter, though, you can jump in yourself. You’re allowed to. The Parks Department posts some guidelines here.

Start by clearing the tree bed of trash, then weeds. Mulch around the tree roots is important too. Then water.  

If you want to plant flowers or other plants in the tree bed, you’re welcome to. Just don’t plant a species that will compete with the tree. Here’s a list of varieties that work. You might want to add some soil.  

Community organizations also host tree-care workshop all around the city. 

The Coney Island Beautification Project was formed when some proactive residents wanted to replant flowers in tree beds that had been disrupted by Hurricane Sandy.  

“It became necessary,” says Pamela Pettyjohn, one of the founders. “The simple act of planting flowers grew into a necessary organization. We’re in a position now where we are working with other organizations and making decision about what happens to coastal communities.” 

Trees are an avenue into participation in democracy, says Erika Svenderson, co-director and researcher at the U.S. Forest Service’s New York City field station, which is located in Fort Trotten, next to the Throgs Neck Bridge in Queens.  

Svendersen looked at this question for a 2015 book, studying New Yorkers who participated in tree stewardship activities.

“The simple act of planting a tree, particularly for first time tree planters, was a catalyst or an on-ramp for other civic actions,” she says–actions like connecting with a  neighborhood block group or attending community meetings.

“They started to connect with other people and initiate things in their community that they hadn’t had the confidence to do things in the past.”

A new exhibition at the Queens Museum examines the people and organizations that care for New York City’s trees. It runs through September 29. The museum is hosting a panel discussion as well as are several off-site tree-care events this weekend.


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