Frequently Asked Questions About City Trees
1. Trees in General
What are the benefits of trees?
Trees supply character to a landscape, create a sense-of-place, provide a habitat for plants and animals, promote interacting within the community, temper local climate, reduce stormwater runoff/erosion, diminish building lines, conceal unsightly views, provide solitude, assist in conserving energy, and increase property values. Increasing the tree canopy in the City of Wilmington also helps improve water quality by reducing the amount of water entering the sewers and causing Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs).
What type of tree do I have?
For questions and inquiries specific to your tree, please schedule an appointment with Herbert W. White, the City of Wilmington's Urban Forest Administrator, at: hwwhite@WilmingtonDE.gov.
How do I properly prune or plant a tree?
Check www.TreesAreGood.org for detailed tree care information.
How do I choose the best type of tree to plant?
The City uses the Recommended Urban Trees list prepared by the Delaware Center for Horticulture and approved by the Urban Forest Administrator. The City strives to plant the right tree for the appropriate space to avoid future maintenance problems, disease/insect problems, litter/nuisance trees, and invasive species.
What is the best time of year to plant a tree?
The best times to plant trees are in the fall and spring, generally October through December and March through May.
How does my tree help improve water quality?
For every $1 we spend on plantings, trees pay us back with over $2.50 worth of benefits through reductions in polluted runoff and air pollution, coupled with energy savings and property value increases. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, planting just 100 trees is equivalent to restoring one acre of urban land to forest. This reduces the amount of nitrogen entering urban waterways by two-thirds, which improves water quality. In addition, trees capture water in their leaves which decreases the amount of water and pollutants entering the City’s combined sewer system.
2. Tree Regulations
When do I need a permit?
A permit is required for planting, removal and pruning of branches larger than 2” in diameter of street trees. Root pruning of street trees and any disturbance or compaction with the tree protection zone requires a permit. The permit is free, requires a site inspection, and takes approximately two weeks to process. You must obtain a permit to ensure that proper tree care is given to city trees. Street tree work completed without a permit is subject to fines and replanting requirements.
What trees are considered street trees?
Street trees are trees that fall within the public right-of-way (R-O-W). Usually these trees are between the sidewalk and curb in tree pits. However, sometimes the trees are still considered street trees when they are on the other side of the sidewalk, depending on the width of the particular street’s R-O-W. To be sure, call the Department of Public Works.
What is the Tree Protection Zone (TPZ) and why does it need to be protected?
The tree protection zone is the area beneath the trees dripline. The dripline is the width of a trees canopy as measured by a circle extending perpendicularly from the outermost tips of the branches to the ground. Protection of this area during construction preserves the tree roots. Soil compaction, and root cutting within the dripline damages roots and prevents the tree from obtaining nutrients, slowly starving a tree. Most trees will die within two to three years.
Who maintains street trees?
City Code, Chapter 46, specifies that street trees are the responsibility of the adjacent property owner.
What if I applied to remove my street tree and it was denied?
Permit appeals are heard by the City Tree Commission.
Do I need a permit for private property trees?
How can I get a City street tree removed?
City street trees are protected by City ordinance and are only permitted to be removed if they are hazardous and must be replaced.
If I am permitted to remove a street tree, do I have to replace it?
Yes, City code requires replacement. Species recommendation can be provide by contacting the Urban Forest administrator in the Department of Public Works.
What if the City removes a tree?
If a tree is removed as part of a City project, then the tree must be replaced with two trees.
When I purchased my home the tree was already there and no one told me about Wilmington’s tree ordinance. Am I still responsible for my street tree?
Yes. The responsibility of care for street trees belongs to the homeowner.
3. General City Tree Questions
What if I think my City tree is too tall and needs to be topped?
Topping of trees, leaving trunks with stubby limbs is against City policy and is harmful to the tree. It can cause starvation and shock, leave the tree open for insects and disease, foster rapid new growth that forms weak limbs, and can lead to the death of the tree.
My tree is damaging the sidewalk. What can I do?
In most cases, repairs can be made without removal of the tree. However, there are some instances when the growing space is too small for the size of the tree and it would be better to remove and replace the tree with a less invasive species. In other cases, if too many large roots need to be severed to make the repairs and the tree’s stability is in jeopardy, removal and replacement will be recommended. Contact the Department of Public Works to inquire about sidewalk-tree conflicts. The Urban Forest administrator can provide information on tree preservation or removal once sidewalk work has been planned. Do not cut tree roots or the tree may become unstable.
What can be done about tree roots that get into my sewer line?
Generally, tree roots get into sewer lines because the sewer line is old and leaking and need to be replaced or repaired. It is rare that tree roots will enter or crush a sewer line. When this does occur, a permit is still required for tree removal.
What does the City do about trees that are growing into the power lines?
Experienced Delmarva Forestry tree-trimming crews and professional tree-trimmers contracted specifically for this will inspect and safely trim trees away from power lines throughout Delmarva’s service territory. If work must be done to trees on your property, a Delmarva Forestry employee or representative will contact you or leave a door hanger at your home before the pruning project begins. However, if a tree has caused an outage or poses an imminent safety hazard the work may be done immediately without notification. If you have questions about the work being done in your neighborhood, call the Delmarva Power Forestry Division at 1-800-375-7117.
There is something wrong with my tree. Can someone from the City come and look at it?
The City routinely performs hazard evaluations on street trees. The City will only provide hazard evaluations on private property trees upon request by the department of licenses and inspections. However, a local certified arborist can often provide an free estimate and evaluation of private property trees.
Can you recommend a contractor to work on my tree?
The City cannot recommend a specific contractor. However, the City recommends all work on street trees be supervised by a certified arborist to ensure high quality tree work. A list of certified arborists can be found on the International Society of Arboriculture website at at www.isa-arbor.com. In addition, contractors must be licensed to perform work within City limits.
4. Urban Forestry Management
Does the City have an urban forest management plan that outlines goals for the urban forest?
An urban forest management plan is currently being developed by the Tree Commission and the Urban Forest Administrator in the Department of Public Works. The Urban Forest management plan is intended to guide practices and policies to effectively manage the City of Wilmington’s urban forest as a public asset consisting of trees along City streets, within parks and on public property, and maximize the benefits these trees provide to the community.
What is Trees for Wilmington?
The Trees for Wilmington (TFW) coalition began in 2006 as a working group of the Wilmington Beautification Commission, an initiative of the Mayor’s Office to improve the City’s parks and urban landscapes. TFW is composed of a variety of stakeholders, including local residents, policy-makers, government agency representatives and municipal employees. More information about Trees for Wilmington can be found on the Delaware Center for Horticulture website at www.thedch.org.
What is the Tree Commission?
The City Tree Commission is consists of five members, three appointed by the mayor and two be appointed by the President of City council. The tree commission is considered a public body with the responsibility of reviewing tree permit appeals, advising on City tree matters and developing a community tree plan.
What is the Delaware Center for Horticulture and what do they do?
The DCH is a nonprofit organization that can help facilitate financial assistance for street trees. Request forms can be found on their website at www.thedch.org and submitted to DCH. Depending on the situation, public funding for tree work could take 9-18 months to secure and complete the work and is contingent upon available funding.
Can I hang a sign on a tree?
No. Nails damage trees. Signs should never be affixed with nails or staples.
My neighbor's tree limbs are growing over my property line. Can I prune these limbs?
It is recommended to first speak with your neighbor to see if you can reach a mutual understanding. Your neighbor may not realize his or her tree is posing a problem to your property. According to City Code property owners are responsible for maintaining their trees so that branches extending onto a neighbor’s property are not damaging the neighboring property. It is recommended that a homeowner have their private property tree pruned or removed by employing an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified arborist. If a homeowner is not taking care of a tree that poses a hazardous situation, contact the Department of Licensing and Inspections who will coordinate an evaluation with the Urban Forest Administrator. If there is a tree with branches hanging onto your property that you would like removed, and you cannot reach an agreement with your neighbor, you can remove these branches, or hire an arborist to do so, as long as it does not harm the health of the tree.
My tree and my neighbor's tree are dropping leaves, making a mess, and clogging my gutters. Can I remove these trees or force my neighbor to remove their tree?
No. City street trees are protected by City ordinance and are only permitted to be removed if they are hazardous. Trees on private property can only be cited to be removed if they are hazardous or causing damage to adjacent property.
I have an empty space for a City tree in front of my property. How do I get a new tree planted?
Contact the Department of Public works and submit a permit form to plant an appropriate tree yourself or contact the Delaware Center for Horticulture to request a new tree through public funding programs.
How can I get involved with trees in the City?
Join the Wilmington Beautification Commission’s “Trees for Wilmington” working group which is working to set a tree canopy goal for Wilmington to engage City residents, public partners, local government and businesses in the shared responsibility of City tree planting, care, and preservation. Contact the Delaware Center for Horticulture for more opportunities.
What if I don’t want a tree because we have too much crime and the trees make it too dark?
Research shows that trees are linked to areas of lower crime, and there are options for trees with an open canopy that will still let light shine through. Also, placement of trees strategically between lights helps address this concern.
I see someone taking down a tree and I don’t think they have a permit. What can I do?
If someone is cutting down a street tree in your neighborhood, snap a photo and contact the Urban Forest administrator at 576-2582 to see if they have a permit.
Who do I contact with a specific tree problem?
You may have a specific tree concern and wonder if the City will assist you with this matter. There are multiple tree-related concerns that will determine if the City can assist you. Below is a guideline, but feel free to contact Public Works Urban Forest Administrator who can assist further.
General Tree Questions:
Street Tree Concerns:
Park Tree Concerns:
Dept. of Parks and Recreation (302) 576-3820
Private Property Tree Complaints:
Dept. of Licenses & Inspections (302) 576-3030
Trees and Power Lines:
Delmarva Power 1-800-375-7117
Tree Blocking Road During Business Hours:
Dept. of Parks and Recreation (302) 576-3820
Tree Blocking Road After Business Hours:
Wilmington Police Department (302) 656-4357
City Trees Contact Numbers
Street Tree Concerns:
General Tree Questions:
Herbert W. White
Urban Forest Administrator