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Philly giving away free trees, but with social distancing amid coronavirus

Philadelphia is still offering residents free trees to plant this spring through the TreePhilly program, but in a new way to keep with social distancing parameters.

A photo from a 2018 TreePhilly giveaway event.
A photo from a 2018 TreePhilly giveaway event.Read moreCourtesy Nueva Esperanza

Bald cypress. Kentucky coffeetree. Pagoda dogwood.

Those are just a few of the trees Philadelphia plans to offer residents free this spring through its popular TreePhilly program. But this year’s giveaway will keep within social distancing parameters because of the coronavirus, and there will be fewer trees than in prior years.

Officials say trees will be available at two no-contact pickup events, with door-to-door delivery available for residents in high-risk populations or who are unable to pick up a tree by vehicle. Participants must preregister starting May 17 at Pickups are scheduled for Saturday, May 23, and Sunday, May 24. Deliveries will take place from May 25 through 29.

The number of trees is limited and they are available only as supplies last. TreePhilly typically distributes 1,000 yard trees in the spring, but this year it will give away only 200 due to a change in operations designed to protect against spreading COVID-19. However, the program plans to scale up for a distribution in the fall. The city did not give an estimate for how many street trees it is offering.

Pickups this month will be organized with “strict adherence to social distancing guidelines” and to limit the number of residents at any scheduled time. Though staff will be on hand, residents are expected to load trees on their own into vehicles.

In March, TreePhilly postponed its spring season of the Community Yard Tree Giveaway Program, which included 23 tree distribution events in neighborhoods across the city in collaboration with local partners. This month’s giveaway is replacing those events.

“Now more than ever, Philadelphians need trees in their communities,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell said in a news release. “We are thrilled to be able to offer Philadelphia residents a safe opportunity to make a difference this spring, literally right in their own backyard.”

TreePhilly offers about 10 different species each season, including large shade trees, fruit trees, and flowering trees. They are planted in five-gallon buckets and run from two to 10 feet in height. They can fit in cars, trucks, grocery carts or even bikes. Some can be taken on public transportation.

Residents can choose from trees suitable for yards or along the street.

TreePhilly says it has given away more than 24,000 trees in partnership with the Fairmount Park Conservancy and neighborhood organizations, and sponsorship by TD Bank, since 2012. The program was launched in response to the Office of Sustainability’s Greenworks Plan, which hopes to reach 30% tree canopy coverage in every Philadelphia neighborhood.

Organizers point to a recent study in the Lancet journal showing that improved tree canopy in Philadelphia could save hundreds of city residents each year from premature death.

TreePhilly is also partnering with the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership to deliver additional trees to residents of zip codes 19120 and 19124. Residents there can contact Nathan McWilliams at or call 215-744-1853.

Here are the scheduled pickup events:

  1. Saturday, May 23, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Frankford Boat Launch, 5501 Tacony St.

  2. Sunday, May 24, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Carousel House, 4300 Avenue of the Republic.

TreePhilly will email information about the exact delivery date after registration.