Planting Trees

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Right tree, right place -  selecting the right tree

Planting the right tree in the right place helps trees survive, reduces maintenance costs, and prevents property damage. Planting a tree can have a lasting impact, so choose wisely to add a valuable asset to our community! 

Street trees in the public right of way

Planting Permit

Residents must obtain a free permit from City Foresty to plant a tree in the City right of way. Request a permit online or call the Forestry office at 719-385-5942.

Approved Street Tree List

Trees planted in the right of way must be on the Approved Street Tree List for Colorado Springs. The planting strip must be at least 4ft wide to plant a tree.

The following trees are prohibited in the public right of way:

  • Any of the poplar (Populus) species—aspens, cottonwoods, etc.
  • Any of the willow (Salix) species
  • Any of the ash (Fraxinus) species—green ash, white ash
  • Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila)—sometimes called “Chinese” elm
  • Boxelder (Acer negundo) --including “Sensation” maple
  • Mulberry
  • Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)
  • Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)
  • Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

Trees on private property

The Front Range Tree Recommendation List contains many great recommendations, which may not be suitable for street trees, but could be great choices for planting on private property. No permit is required to plant a tree on your own property.

Colorado Springs Utilities offers many great tips on tree planting, care and maintenance. Visit CSU.org for information. 

Considerations for all tree planting

Best time for planting

Spring and fall are the optimal times to plant a tree in Colorado Springs, but trees can be successfully planted any time the ground is not too frozen to dig a hole, with some considerations:

  • In our semi-arid climate all trees will need supplemental watering to become established and survive droughts. 
  • Springtime typically offers the benefit of more abundant moisture in the soil and cooler weather. 
  • Planting in the summer allows for the opportunity to observe and select trees while in leaf or blooming, but will require diligent watering to ensure survival.  
  • Fall plantings provide a chance to choose trees based on autumn color and sometimes nurseries are willing to offer discounts before the winter season. 

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; the next best time is now!

Utilities

  • Always check for overhead and underground utilities to avoid future conflicts.
  • Only plant trees under overhead electric wires that say “okay under power lines” on the approved street tree list
  • Call 811 to have buried utilities located before you dig

Width of the planting area

  • Select appropriate trees for the width of the planting area.
  • Small trees may have a broad spreading canopy, which can obstruct road signs, traffic visibility, or accessibility of sidewalks or streets.
  • Only plant trees in narrow planting strips (4ft) if they say “okay in narrow planting strip” on the approved street tree list.  

Size, shape, and location

Consider the mature size and shape of the tree. While it may be tempting to plant multiple trees closely together or close to a street, house, or fence, it is important to visualize how the trees will look in 5, 20, or even 50 years.

  • Spacing should be at least 40 ft. between large trees; 30 ft. between medium trees, and 25 ft. between small trees. This will result in healthier trees, with less competition and more room to grow.
  • The planting strip must be at least 4 ft. wide to plant a tree.
  • Where the curb and sidewalk are attached, plant your tree 5 -10 ft. from the inside edge of the sidewalk.
  • Select trees with a smaller mature size when planting under utility lines.
  • On corner lots, plant trees at least 40 ft. from the corner to allow for traffic visibility.
  • Plant trees at least 5 ft. from driveways and water service lines, 10 ft. from alleys and fire hydrants, and 20 ft. from streetlights.
  • Do not plant trees where growth will obstruct traffic signs.

Water needs

Colorado Springs is a semi-arid region that is subject to periodic droughts and occasional watering restrictions. Selecting trees that are drought tolerant will reduce watering costs and maintenance obligations, and help build a more resilient urban forest.

  • Plant trees with higher water needs in a lawn where they may have access to more irrigation.
  • Avoid planting these in the city right of way near sidewalks and streets, as these areas are more difficult to irrigate.
  • All trees require periodic watering the first 2 to 3 years to become established.
  • Drought tolerant species are better able to survive with only supplemental watering during dry spells; trees with higher water needs will need consistent watering throughout their lifetimes.
  • Water needs will increase as trees mature; wise choices now will result in reduced costs and healthier trees in the future.

Growth rate and longevity

  • Though they may be suitable in private yards, many fast growing species of trees have growth habits or characteristics that are undesirable in a parkway setting. They tend to be short lived, prone to breakage, or have aggressive root systems that create expensive infrastructure conflicts.
  • Trees that grow at a moderate rate put more resources into protection from disease and decay, and may be longer-lived and stronger trees. This can save our community money by extending pruning cycles, conserving water, and reducing the need to remove and replace declining trees.

Cold hardiness

  • Colorado Springs is in Zone 5 (4 in the western foothills and north toward Monument Hill). Trees rated for higher zones may not tolerate our climactic extremes.

Situations to Avoid

  1. Broad spreading canopy on a small hawthorn that is blocking the street and the sidewalk
  2. Silver maple planted in a narrow parkway
  3. Cottonwood planted too close to the sidewalk
  4. Tree planted within 5ft of a stop sign on a corner
  5. Large shrubs planted on a corner blocking visibility of traffic
  6. Spruce tree planted too close to sidewalk

Additional resources