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Your yard, street or park could get free trees thanks to a $1.1 million expansion to Philly program

Officials announced Thursday that TD Bank has pledged $1.125 million for the program over three years starting in 2019 that will allow the city to plant trees strategically in streets with few trees and organize large-scale tree plantings in parks. The money will be in addition to $7 million in funding for TreePhilly from city and state sources, as well as private foundations. So the program will have about $8.2 million to spend the next three years.

TreePhilly plans to expand its popular tree giveaway program.
TreePhilly plans to expand its popular tree giveaway program.Read moreTreePhilly

A few years ago, Kimberly Washington moved back to Philadelphia's Frankford neighborhood, where she grew up, and began helping give away trees to her neighbors to plant in their yards. The city's TreePhilly program has been a hit there, she said.

"We just did a tree giveaway this spring and gave away 50 trees that went very fast," said Washington, a 37-year-old lawyer and executive director of the Frankford Community Development Corp. "I think in an urban environment, where you don't see too many green spaces, giving neighbors free trees means that they help bring their neighborhoods up at no cost.  There are the benefits that come with an increased tree canopy, the energy efficiency trees provide to homes, the air efficiency. … Trees touch on so many things."

Since starting in 2012, TreePhilly has become increasingly popular, distributing 21,500 oaks, poplars, sweetgums and other species for residents to plant.  Now, with the next giveaway planned for Sept. 29 through Nov. 17, officials want to expand their reach.

The goal is to increase the tree canopy to 30 percent of all neighborhoods to combat the urban heat island effect as well as the impact of climate change.  In some neighborhoods, summer temperatures can get much higher than the city average — as much as 20 degrees — because they lack tree cover.  Hunting Park in North Philadelphia, Point Breeze in South Philadelphia, and Cobbs Creek in West Philadelphia are a few examples of communities with lots of rowhouses but little greenery.  They stand in stark contrast to neighborhoods such as Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy in the Northwest, and Somerton in the Northeast, all of which boast tree-lined streets and shady parks.

Officials announced Thursday that TD Bank has pledged about $1.13 million for the program over three years starting in 2019. The gift will cover more trees and allow the city to plant them strategically along streets that need them, and organize large-scale tree plantings in parks.  The TD Bank pledge comes on top of more than $7 million in funding for TreePhilly from the city, state and the Fairmount Park Conservancy over the same three-year period.

"It's a really huge monetary support for TreePhilly and allows us to expand the work we are doing," said Erica Smith,  manager of the program.

Trees will be targeted to neighborhood parks, she said, but money will also go to support efforts in Wissahickon, Pennypack, Cobbs Creek, Tacony, Fairmount, FDR and Poquessing Creek Parks.

"Those we consider our natural lands parks," Smith said. "The goal there is to increase the capacity of our staff to restore those areas and increase tree plantings and community engagement work there." She said deer have taken their toll on trees so money will also go toward fencing.

"The last element is that we're going to be planting more trees in our neighborhood parks as well as those like Clark Park, Hunting Park and any of the large landscaped parks that have lawns and not as many trees."

TreePhilly will also work with the city's Office of Sustainability's Beat the Heat program designed to help residents in some areas adapt to high heat.

Here's a breakdown of where the money is going:

  1. Yard Trees: TreePhilly will continue to give away trees for residents to plant on their properties.  But, instead of being distributed directly by the city, 9,000 trees will be given out through community grants and community-based giveaways.  Officials believe community groups will give them broader access to residents.

  2. Street Trees:  In many neighborhoods, there are few or no yards and planting trees there is not an option.  So TreePhilly will help plant 3,000 trees in those areas to develop "green corridors."

  3. Natural Lands: Over 60 percent of the city's parks are not actively managed. The expanded program will allow the Parks and Recreation Department to plant 6,000 shrubs and 8,000 trees.  Money will also go toward the city-owned Greenland Nursery, which grows plants for use by the city.

  4. Park Plantings:  375 trees will be planted at parks and recreation facilities and neighborhood parks.

A portion of the money will also help pay for staff for the TreeKeepers program.  The crew, comprised of ex-offenders, prunes trees, removes invasive vines, weeds and maintains storm-water planters at parks and recreation programs.