September 18, 2008

Planting trees at your playspace: Technical considerations

By Jared Liu

From my earlier article, you know that there are critical benefits for incorporating trees at playspaces. Now let’s talk about technical details of planting and caring for trees. Unfortunately, it may not be as easy as it sounds. You need to know about managing inventory and quality control, tree selection, site preparation and planting, and proper tree care including watering, mulching, pruning, and fertilizing. Otherwise, you could quickly end up with a row of dead trees.

The best option is to contact your community tree organization. Ask them to help in early in the playspace planning stages. You can find the one nearest to you by visiting the Alliance for Community Trees at

Trees are an investment: take good care of them and you’ll reap the benefits. Here are some critical rules for how you can invest in the safety and health of our communities:

  • Plant the right trees in the right places. Use native trees, and consider your needs and desired outcomes. Do you want shade trees or ornamentals, fruit trees or flowering trees? Plant tall growing shade trees at least 20 feet from power lines and 15 to 20 feet from your house on the west and south sides. If you’re planting trees on a playground, consider how close to the playground you plant your trees. Branches hanging over the playground need to be at least 84” above the tallest part of the playground.
  • Care for your trees. Spread mulch two inches deep, and not on the trunk. Young trees need 10 gallons of water per week, particularly between the months of May and October. During periods of drought or extreme heat, water your tree twice a week using recycled grey water (e.g. shower water). Gently loosen the soil around the tree if it becomes hard and add a thin layer of mulch around the base of your tree each spring.
  • Protect your trees. Keep the soil around your tree healthy by keeping it free of animal waste, hazardous materials, and litter. Avoid adding too much soil around the tree or over its roots, as this will cause suffocation. Also consider installing a tree guard to protect against animals such as deer.

Finally, tell a friend. Recruit two neighbors to plant two trees, and you will have made a big difference! Talk to them about the benefits trees provide. For more information, visit the Alliance for Community Trees at

The Alliance for Community Trees (ACT) is a national alliance of organizations dedicated to improving the health and livability of cities through tree planting and care. With 150 affiliates in 40 states and Canada, ACT engages volunteers to improve the environment in urban areas, where 83 percent of people live. As director of programs, Jared Liu coordinates grants, policy, and communications.

howto, green, landscaping