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Parks & Recreation

Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland

Phone: 503-823-PLAY (7529)

Fax: 503-823-6007

1120 SW Fifth Ave., Suite 1302, Portland, OR 97204

Portland Parks & Recreation Urban Forestry News and Activities 

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View a calendar of Urban Forestry events

Selecting and Promoting Diverse Tree Species

Upcoming treewalk and presentation- learn about alternatives to maple and ash!

by Matthew Downs, Urban Forestry Tree Plan Coordinator and AmeriCorps Member

Quercus myrsinifolia

Quercus myrsinifolia

We city-dwellers place a high value on our urban forest. Trees provide innumerable aesthetic and ecological benefits that a concrete jungle simply can’t. Join us for Selecting and Promoting Diverse Tree Species, a tree walk and presentation highlighting the benefits of diversity as protection against pests and pathogens, as well as information on how and where to pick the right tree for your planting site.

This workshop is hosted by the Mt. Tabor and North Tabor Tree Teams, in partnership with Friends of Trees, Bureau of Environmental Services, and Urban Forestry.

When:     Saturday, June 4, 2016, 10:00am- noon (rain or shine)

Where: Western Seminary, Bueermann Hall, Room 101, 5511 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR 97215


Halesia fruit

Halesia sp., also known as Silverbell


9:45 - 10:00 am: Registration and coffee, tea

10:00 – 10:30 am: Presentations from Friends of Trees and Bureau of Environmental Services

10:30 – 11:30 am: Tree Walk with Jim Gersbach of Urban Forestry

11:30 – noon: Individual tree help. Get your questions answered!


Matthew Downs at Portland Parks & Recreation, Urban Forestry, 503-334-0348

A Guide to Tree Care (Part 1)

Selecting and Planting Your Tree

by Matthew Downs, Urban Forestry AmeriCorps Member

urban trees

Trees along a street in Portland (photo by Julie Fukuda)

Join Urban Forestry and the Powelhurst-Gilbert Tree Team for a free workshop (presentation and treewalk) to learn about general tree care:

When: Saturday, May 7, 2016, 1-3pm

Where: Holgate Baptist Church (11242 SE Holgate Blvd)

How: Register here:

Why do we need trees?

Trees help city-dwellers in multiple ways. They filter the air we breathe, calm our nerves, shade our streets, and cool our neighborhoods in the summer. Some studies have correlated trees with reduced crime and better birth outcomes. And in Portland’s stormy winters, trees help to mitigate flooding by intercepting rainfall. So yes, trees are necessary to our health in the cityscape – bringing us back to nature – but their management is essential before we receive any such benefits. In Portland, we’ve implemented Title 11 Trees to help do so.

Right Tree, Right Place

Two main things to keep in mind here: site width and overhead wires. Between our utility and communication lines, buildings, streets and sidewalks, there wouldn’t seem to be a lot of space left for trees. Yet, there is! And it becomes a matter of choosing the right species for the available planting site.

Here at Urban Forestry, we like to use the helpful motto Right tree, Right place. By this we mean that trees vary greatly across genera and species. Say you’ve got an empty 6 ft planting strip in front of your house without high-voltage wires overhead. How about an evergreen like a live oak to intercept that rainfall!

evergreen oak

Leaves of an evergreen oak (photo by Nik Desai)

Species Selection

Before setting your heart on any one tree, visit Urban Forestry’s Approved Street Tree Planting page for species lists based on site width and overhead wire obstructions. These lists account for size and form, but you’ll have to dig deeper to ensure your selection is getting the proper sunlight or soil conditions. Visit Friends of Trees to browse tree options with helpful characteristics reports for each.

If you’ve got the ability to make your selection from nursery stock, ask yourself the following questions about form when actually selecting the tree:

Is there a proper central leader?

Nurseries often prune for presentation. Be wary of trees that have been topped to encourage lush lateral growth, but lack dominant central leaders. Keep in mind the majority, if not all of the branches on young trees are temporary.

Central Leader

An evergreen magnolia with a strong central leader (photo by Nik Desai)

Are the roots girdling?

Seedlings are grown in pots, transferred to bigger pots as they grow, and later bigger pots as needed. Sometimes that doesn’t happen as timely as we’d hope, and the roots can encircle and constrict their own optimal form. While root pruning is possible, some girdling roots make for an absolute lost cause. That is to say be choosy, because not all nursery stock is fit for planting.

girdling roots

This poor tree is in for some trouble due to girdling roots. Pay attention to girdling roots before you plant your tree! (photo by Gina Dake)



Obtain a permit before planting in the right-of-way. This is an essential part of Title 11 Trees that enforces the “Right Place” end of Right Tree, Right Place. An Urban Forestry Tree Inspector will mark your curb at the exact spot that the tree should be planted. This ensures the tree won’t interfere with drivers’ vision, utility lines, or create any other potential hazards.


The roots have many variables to consider. Are they wrapped in a ball with burlap and soil? Is the tree in a container? Are they roots completely exposed? If the tree is in a container or has a root ball, the roots will be tightly bound by soil. Use a knife or a spade and rough up the exterior of the soil wad to free some roots for lateral growth. Often times the root flare tree in a container will be covered by soil as well, so be sure to dig it out so the flare is visible. This will help with the planting depth.

planting depth

Debra Kneeshaw, Portland Parks Horticulturalist, demonstrates proper planting (photo by Jim Gersbach). 


Way too many trees die because they’ve been planted too low or too high. The root flare must be visible above the soil surface, but not so high that the roots are exposed. If the tree sits too low, add compacted soil under the roots to bring it higher. The proper depth is right at that Goldilocks point.

Fill the rest of the hole in with the soil you’ve dug out for the hole. Do not use fertilizer or potting soil. This will train the tree to expect nutrients in its immediate vicinity rather than growing vigorous, supportive roots via the search of water and nutrients.       

Pull away competing plant roots, and use the excess soil to build a berm in the form of a ring around the tree. This will lock in water for the first stage of establishment.

planting diagram

(Diagram courtesy of Urban Forestry)

Cross section of a tree planting. Note the berm built up around the tree. The diameter of this circle should be twice the diameter of the root ball.

For questions or further information, please contact:  

Celebrate Arbor Day on April 30, 2016

...and Share Your Tree Story!

2016 Arbor Day poster illustrated by local artist, John Maddin.

Join us at Arbor Day! There will be opportunities for visitors to add their tree stories to our story tree, arts and crafts for kids and adults, information about trees and tree care, tree seedling giveaways, historical and heritage tree tours led by a local historian, music, storytelling and much more!    

When: Saturday, April 30, 2016 from 8:30am - 2:00pm

Where: Portland Farmers Market at the PSU South Park Blocks (near SW Park Ave and Montgomery St

Music begins at 10:30am, followed by the Naito Awards, the Maynard Drawson Award, Arbor Day Foundation Awards and the Mayoral Proclamation. 

This year's Individual Naito Community Trees Award will be presented to Jim Labbe. For over two decades, Jim has carried forth a tireless passion for urban trees and the richness they offer both people and wildlife, alike. He has contributed to the conservation and management of Portland’s urban forest as a student, watershed council coordinator, consultant, citizen advocate and as Urban Conservationist with the Audubon Society of Portland.

This year's Group Naito Community Trees Award will be presented to the Albina Neighborhood Tree Team. In their short tenure, this group has illustrated what an equity-based approach to working with neighbors and trees in low income neighborhoods can accomplish. Their work could be replicated across Portland, bringing people together and lessening the financial burden that hazardous trees can place on low-income households.

The second annual Maynard Drawson Award, established by the Oregon Travel Experience and the Oregon Heritage Tree Program, will be presented to Urban Forestry Commissioner, Catherine Mushel. Maynard “The Tree Man” Drawson, founded the state’s Heritage Tree Program, making Oregon the first state to have such a program. This annual award honors individuals who have championed Oregon’s trees with the same fervor and success as Drawson. Catherine exemplifies Maynard Drawson’s commitment, and zest for Oregon trees, through over 20 years of collective volunteer work with Friends of Trees, Urban Forestry’s Neighborhood Tree Steward Program, and the Urban Forestry Commission- working to increase protection and community awareness of heritage trees, Portland's street trees, and trees threatened by Dutch Elm Disease.

Arbor Day Foundation Awards will be presented to Portland State University, as a Tree Campus USA and for the 39th consecutive year, the City of Portland, will receive recognition as a Tree City USA. Award ceremonies for all of the above will run from 11am-noon.  

Arbor Day 2015

Some of the characters that you might encounter on Arbor Day!

The theme for this year's celebration is Share Your Tree Story!

Our story project focuses on Our Storied Connections with Trees. We want to hear from you, so send your tree story to: In 500 words or less, please describe a tree that has been significant to you and why. Be sure to include information about type of tree (if you know) or names by which the tree was known. Also, where the tree was located. Feel free to send photos, too!

We plan to share these stories with the general public on our Urban Forestry website and as part of our greater art project, The Year in Tree Stories. By submitting your stories and/or photos, you consent to use of these by the City of Portland for any lawful purpose, including, for example, promotion of Urban Forestry programs, publicity, illustration, advertising and web content. 

To learn more about the event and the launch of A Year in Tree Stories, please visit: or contact:

The Historic Flowering Cherries of the Albina Tree Planting Program

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Upcoming Presentation and Tree Walk (4/16/16): Tree History in King-Sabin

By Dave Hedberg, Urban Forestry Community Service Aide II

Cherry trees

This mature flowering cherry tree on NE Mallory recently got some more space to grow, thanks to a sidewalk adjustment at the base of the tree (photo courtesy of Dave Hedberg). 

When: Saturday, April 16, 2016, 1-3pm

Where: Whole Foods (3535 NE 15th Ave, Portland OR 97212)

Register here:

April is Arbor Month and it is a fitting time to reflect on how Portlanders have planted urban street trees- both today and in the past. 

With the arrival of spring, many trees in the urban forest are budding and blossoming in spectacular displays of color. Take a stroll in Portland and you will likely see many beautiful flowering cherry trees, particularly in the Albina District (Boise, Eliot, King, Sabin, Overlook, Piedmont, and Humboldt neighborhoods). While they are certainly picturesque this time of year, these trees also have a deep connection to the history of the neighborhood. They point back to the grassroots activism of the local African-American leaders who worked to beautify the community. 

Following World War II and the Vanport Flood, Portland's African-Americans faced prejudiced real-estate zoning or "redlining," which effectively restricted the community to Albina. Urban development projects, like Memorial Coliseum and Emanuel Hospital, further displaced significant numbers of black business owners and residents. By the 1960s, while much of the city celebrated relative affluence, members of Albina's black community were suffering from poverty and city disinvestment in their neighborhoods.

In 1961, local black leaders like Mrs. Opal Strong, took matters into their own hands. Organizing as the Albina Neighborhood Improvement Committee, local leaders obtained $1 million in federal funds to revitalize the neighborhoods. To beautify the area and foster a deeper sense of place, the Albina Tree Planting Program, part of the larger revitalization project, began planting trees in 1962. Headed by Rev. Faddie J. Crear, the program included both black and white residents and many celebrated it for its inclusiveness.

Throughout the twelve years of the program, leaders favored planting the Kwanzan flowering cherry. With so many trees planted, it is not easy to date conclusively, but it is fair to say that most mature flowering cherries in this area are associated with the program. The program also planted other species including: incense cedar, japanese maples, dogwood, and tulip trees. In 1964 alone, the program planted over 500 trees in Albina! 

 Albina Tree Planting Program

Albina Tree Planting program, ca. 1964, courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society, 52657)

Tree Planting, 1966

Oregonian, Feb.12, 1966, p. 15.

Today, many of these flowering cherry trees have grown beyond the confines of their smaller planting strips, thereby lifting up sidewalks and creating hazards. Additionally, many of these trees, while beautiful, have come to the end of their life spans. 

Just this year, members of the Albina Neighborhood Tree Team obtained Urban Forest Stewardship Funding to help lower-income neighbors to remove their dead or dying cherry trees, and replace them with a more diverse collection of trees. Selecting new flowering trees that are better suited for the smaller planting strips will continue the grassroots tradition of Albina.

As you admire the spring blossoms, take a moment to appreciate our neighbors, past and present, who have taken to the shovel, to plant new trees. Their investment rewards us all.

If the history of Portland's trees interests you, then please consider attending a fun talk and tree walk, sponsored by the King-Sabin Tree Team on Saturday, April 16, 2016. We will explore this and many other fascinating tree histories in the King and Sabin neighborhoods.   

For more information, please contact:

Albina Cherry Trees

Martha and Willie Jones moved into this home on NE Prescott in 1965, in the midst of the Albina Tree Planting Program. They may have participated in the planting of these flowering cherries (photo courtesy of Dave Hedberg). 

St. Johns Tree History Workshop - Saturday, April 9, 2016

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Learn about the Oregon white oak and its history in the St. Johns neighborhood

by Patrick Key, Urban Forestry Tree Plan Coordinator and AmeriCorps Member


photo by Patrick Key

When: Saturday, April 9, 2016, 10am - noon

Where: Pioneer Methodist Church in Clark Hall (7528 N Charleston Ave)

The native Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana) has a long and important history for the many generations of people that have lived in the Portland area. The range of this tree extends from Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, all the way to Los Angeles, California. Not only does this tree have a wide distribution, but it has and continues to serve various important roles for both people and animals. 

Humans have utilized the Oregon white oak for many different purposes through the years. The native tribes, including the Calapooia and Chinook peoples, have used the acorns as an important food source. The process of preparation today usually involves boiling until the tannins have been removed from the fruits. Historically, the native peoples used flowing water to remove these potentially harmful chemicals. A large number of leaching pits have been found on Sauvie Island, where a natural spring constantly pushes fresh water through the soil and into Multnomah Channel. It is estimated that this location may have processed over 2.5 million acorns a year, providing the people with 59 million calories. These acorns were not only consumed by the collectors, but also used as a trade good. 

This history of trade is reflected in the genetic distribution of the Oregon white oak through the Pacific Northwest. Genetic differences seem to indicate that most of the oaks that grow in the Willamette Valley originated from the area around Vancouver Island, BC, rather than from Southern Oregon and Northern California. This seems to indicate the movement of acorns from the north, along the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. There are some isolated pockets of the genetically southern white oak in Washington State, indicating movement north, as well. These are great displays of how important a food source this species was to the native peoples. 

For more information about Oregon white oaks and their history in the St. Johns neighborhood, join us on Saturday April 9, 2016 . Historian Dave Hedberg will present on the history of trees in this neighborhood and the roles they have played through time.  

Registration and further info:

or email:


photo by Patrick Key