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Caring for Boston's urban forest

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The urban forest is an important part of the City’s landscape. It’s made up of all the trees on public and private land in Boston, along with the City’s shrubs, grasses, ground cover, soil, and waterways.

Emerald Ash Borer

Emerald Ash Borer is in Boston. Learn how the City of Boston is protecting our ash trees and what you can do to help.

Emerald Ash Borer info

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Caring for street trees

Street trees
Trees in South Boston
Public shade trees

Trees add to the well-being of our communities by:

  • moderating our local climate
  • filtering air pollutants
  • storing stormwater and reducing run-off
  • adding to the diversity of species by providing a stable habitat, and
  • connecting us to larger ecosystems.

The Parks Department handles public shade trees. We prune trees and take care of disease control, removals, and repairs. We work on trees throughout Boston’s 22 neighborhoods in the fall and spring.

We plant new trees based on resident requests. You can do your part by mulching and watering your street tree, and reporting any issues to the Park Line at 617-635-7275.

Trees in Ringer Park in Allston
Watering street trees

We welcome the help of residents and community groups to care for Boston's street trees. You should give a new street tree 20 gallons of water once a week, or run a low-pressure hose at the base of the tree for 20 minutes. A tree needs about 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter. Boston's new street trees are typically two inches in thickness.

During really hot weather, a tree will need 30 gallons of water each week in two separate waterings: 15 gallons one day and 15 gallons a few days later.

Tips for pouring the water:

  • Please pour slowly at the base of the tree and in the tree pit.
  • Cultivating or digging up the top three inches of the pit can help the water get to where it needs to go.
  • A three-inch layer of mulch will help the soil stay moist and prevent weeds.
Trees in Boston
Mulching street trees

You can add a three-inch layer of loose, coarse mulch at least three inches from the tree trunk. However, mulching the wrong way can lead to several tree problems:

  • root rot (soil becomes waterlogged, leading to low levels of oxygen)
  • disease (deep, moist layers of mulch attract diseases and insects), and
  • water stress (a thick layer of mulch can stop the flow of water to the root).

Please read “Mulch Out, Not Up” for more information.

Tree care tips


The first signs of wilting leaves appear in the afternoon, when the weather is hottest and driest, and may disappear at night. Wilting will happen to some plants with enough moisture on hot, dry days. So, wait until the morning before watering.

Leaves changing from green to red and yellow can show a lack of water.


Weeding removes competition for nutrients and allows trees to better survive in a tough urban setting. Removing weeds also makes the tree look better and removes ground clutter. Please also remove any trash or animal waste from around trees.


Planting small annuals, perennials, and bulbs can actually help trees, but please don’t plant any species that will grow too large. Also, never add more than two inches of soil to the pit. Adding too much soil around the tree can actually suffocate the roots.

Never plant ivy, vines, woody shrubs, or evergreens. These can interfere with the proper growth and health of street trees. If you have any questions about what you can plant, please call 617-635-7275.


The Parks Department arborists are always on the lookout for invasive species, the most recent being the Emerald Ash Borer first spotted in Massachusetts in 2012.  For more information on this forest pest, please go to these pages hosted by the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation and UMass Amherst: 

Types of public street trees

Street trees
Acer rubrum Red Maple
Acer truncatum Norwegian Sunset Maple
Celtis occidentalis Common Hackberry
Eucommia ulmoides Hardy Rubber Tree
Ginkgo biloba (Male) Ginkgo
Gleditsia triacanthos Inermis Honeylocust
Gymnocladus dioicus Kentucky Coffeetree
Liquidambar styraciflua Sweetgum
Ostrya virginiana American Hophornbeam
Nyssa sylvatica Black Tupelo
Quercus acutissima Sawtooth Oak
Quercus bicolor Swamp White Oak
Quercus imbricaria Shingle Oak
Quercus rubra Red Oak
Quercus palustris Pin Oak
Quercus phellos Willow Oak
Sophora japonica Sophora
Tilia cordata Little-Leaf Linden
Tilia tomentosa Silver linden
Ulmus americana (disease resistant) American Elm
Ulmus carpinifolia Smoothleaf elm
Ulmus wilsoniana Prospector elm
Zelkova serrata Zelkova
Acer campestre Hedge Maple
Acer ginnala Amur Maple (Single-stem)
Amelanchier x grandiflora Shadblow Service berry (Single stem)
Koelreuteria paniculata Goldenraintree
Malus x 'golden raindrops' Crab Apple
Malus x 'sugartyme' Crab Apple
Prunus x. 'autumnalis' Cherry
Prunus x. Rosacea 'okame' Cherry
Prunus x. yedoensis Cherry
Syringa reticulata Japanese Tree Lilac
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