Urban trees do more than provide fresh air and shade – they turn otherwise bleak and barren neighbourhoods into lush, beautiful, green spaces.

If you live in Los Angeles, greening your street is easy – and free – thanks to a generous new initiative which provides free trees to L.A. city residents for yards, parkways, schools and businesses.

“If you want a street tree in front of your house, all you have to do is sign up and one will appear in a few months; it couldn’t be much easier,” said Elizabeth Skrzat, executive director of City Plants – a public-private partnership funded by the L.A. Department of Water and Power, grants and corporations.

Even if you’re outside L.A., your municipality may offer something similar. For example, Long Beach recently offered free fruit trees to city residents and was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming response. There are also organisations, like TreePeople, that help provide free trees to help green neighbourhoods.

The Los Angeles tree planting effort is desperately needed, following a U.S. Forest Service survey which predicts that 38% of the 71 million urban trees in Southern California could perish due to invasive pests – a condition exacerbated by extreme heat and drought.

The urban forest in L.A. is one of the largest in the world, comprised of around 700,000 trees. As the city’s premier radiation defense system, it shields people and buildings from solar damage, as well as rising energy costs.

Trees are also an environmental justice issue, according to advocates. A 2008 study by the U.S. Forest Service found that L.A.’s poorest areas have bare canopies –– as low as 5% coverage, while wealthier areas have the highest, up to 37%.

Given the huge health and economic benefits trees provide (they also increase property values), Los Angeles recently called for a “Tree Summit” of experts to propose ways to protect and enhance the city’s urban forests. The free tree planting initiative was part of this plan. Here’s how it works for Los Angeles residents:
Visit cityplants.org and click the “get free trees” link to order a tree. Within a few months, you’ll receive a door hanger with City Plants’ decision to plant or not to plant, based on an inspection of the proposed planting area (not all areas are suitable for trees).

Provided you promise to water the trees for a minimum period of five years, your new urban trees (there may be room for more than one) will be planted within 2-to-6 months after an approved request.

On the day your street trees are planted, you’ll receive another door hanger that includes the species (chosen from City Plants’ list of 60 climate-appropriate varieties), watering instructions and a link to videos advising you on how to care for your trees.