Frequently Asked Questions
Getting a Tree
+ What type of tree can I get?
Our City Forest plants over 150 species of trees so there are many options for residents. Listed below are a few factors that Our City Forest considers when picking a tree for a particular site:
- Resident‘s Preference: We want our residents to love their trees so that they will take care of them. Residents can state their preferred species of tree in the Tree Stewardship Application, but other factors (listed below) must also be considered.
- Site size: Our City Forest tries to plant the largest shade tree that will fit in the planting area in order to comply with our grants’ stipulations. Large shade trees also provide the most environmental and economic benefits.
- Existing infrastructure: Our City Forest must take into consideration nearby lampposts, sewage, irrigation, etc.
- Tree Survivability: Some trees will fare better than others in San José’s environment. The arborist will make suggestions as to what species tend to do well.
- Availability: Our City Forest has a nursery with a variety of trees. Availability of certain trees may be an issue if the tree in question is not a commonly planted tree. Check out the species brochures to see what is available or visit the nursery for most updated list.
+ Can I get a tree for my yard from Our City Forest?
Yes! Our City Forest has shade and fruit trees available for your front yard, back yard, and open spaces on private property. These trees are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Refer to our Species Brochures for availabilty or visit the Nursery to see what we have.
+ Who is going to take care of the tree? How so?
To receive a tree, you must agree to the following:
- I/we agree to maintain the trees for a period of three years following the stewardship plan outlined below.
- I/we also agree to provide Our City Forest with tree health updates by completing and returning stewardship report forms, which will be mailed to me periodically.
- I/we understand that Our City Forest provides information on the care of the tree(s) and that it is my/our responsibility, as the Tree Steward, to oversee their care.
- I/we agree to:
- Water the tree(s) regularly – minimum of ten gallons weekly;
- Provide necessary pruning (Our City Forest can provide pruning information, recommendations, and instruction);
- Keep the watering basin around each tree maintained and free of competing vegetation (including turf);
- Keep the tree(s) properly staked and adjust or remove stakes as necessary;
- Return stake(s) to Our City Forest after 2 to 3 years (stake pick-up is available for seniors and disabled residents); and
- Monitor the health of the tree(s), checking for disease or pest infestations, and changes in growth, etc.
+ Do I need a permit to plant a tree on my parking strip?
Yes. If you do not already have a planting permit from the city, Our City Forest will help to obtain one for you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 408-998-7337 x 125 to learn more.
+ Can I use the sprinklers to water my tree?
Relying on sprinklers will increase the chances of roots coming to the surface and potentially damaging the cement/sidewalk. It's better to water the tree at a low trickle for a longer period of time than when running sprinklers. This is called Deep Root Watering - when water sinks deeply into the ground, tree roots follow.
+ I am concerned that roots will damage or lift my sidewalk. What do you suggest?
Our certified arborists will carefully select the proper species for your site. Choosing the right tree for the right place and providing proper tree care encourages the roots to grow deep into the soil, reducing the risk of surface damage. Even so, we cannot guarantee that your sidewalks will not be affected.
+ What If there is concrete?
Our City Forest has some funding to remove concrete in certain areas only. In order to a get bulk rate, OCF requires a minimum of five sites needing concrete removal. Email email@example.com to see if your address is in the area we can serve. If not, you will have to hire a contractor to help you remove the cement.
+ What If I have a stump or other vegetation where the tree is to be planted?
We ask that all stumps be ground 24" down before we are able to plant. If there is vegetation that can be removed with simple hand tools, either our volunteers or team members will remove it. We cannot plant where vegetation is heavy or the soil has big roots in it.
+ Does Our City Forest remove stumps?
We do not have the funding or equipment to provide stump removal. However, we do recommend contacting Stump King to remove your stump - Call Toll Free: 877-99-STUMP. Stumps must be ground 24 inches deep and 36 inches wide.
+ Can Our City Forest remove my existing tree?
No Our City Forest does not have the funding or resources to remove trees. We can help you replant yours though!
San José residents must obtain a permit from the City Arborist to remove a tree from the parking strip and contract with a qualified company to perform the work. If you live ourside of SJ, please refer to your own cities policies. See City of San José's website.
+ Do you have trees that don't make a mess? I don’t want to clean up fallen leaves and debris.
We have several evergreen species available that are beautiful and do not drop all their leaves at once! All trees will drop leaves at some point, it's part of their natural life cycle. Deciduous trees lose their leaves at one time. All evergreens lose some leaves too, just in smaller quantities - most retain leaves through several growing seasons, but shed some of older, less efficient leaves.
+ Do I have to clean up the leaf litter? Will it harm my tree if I don’t?
Fallen leaves will not harm a tree, they actually will provide more nutrients to the soil if you allow them to breakdown. Cleaning them up is an aesthetic choice.
+ Will Our City Forest plant my tree for me?
Residents are encouraged to plant on their own after attending a thorough planting demo at the Community Nursery. Our City Forest provides a team and volunteers to help during neighborhood plantings. If you're not able to plant for whatever reason, Our City Forest can do it for a fee. Free planting services are available for seniors and disabled residents. Fill out your Tree Stewardship Application and our team will follow up with you after you submit it.
+ How far should I plant two trees from each other?
Before planting the trees, research how large their combined canopy spread (the width) is likely to be. Then try to plant the trees at that distance. Also research how your trees do with other species planted close by and adjust the planting distance accordingly. Redwoods, for example like being close to other Redwoods. The same goes with birches, aspens, and elms.
+ What types of trees are poisonous to pets?
The ASPCA lists plants on its website that are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.
+ How do I know when and what branches to prune?
First of all, prune only in the winter after the tree’s leaves have dropped. Early structural pruning is critical to the tree’s development, and it takes experience to get it right. We recommend that you get help if this is your first time. We will prune young trees for a suggested donation of $30 or provide instructions on how to do so. A third alternative is to host a pruning workshop for you and members of your neighborhood. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
+ How often should I reapply mulch?
That depends on how quickly the material you use for mulch decays. Treated mulches may last a few years. Shredded leaves might last a growing season. Monitor your mulch. If it looks decayed past the point of usefulness (i.e., becoming one with the soil) add another layer.
+ Where can I get mulch?
If you get a tree from Our City Forest, we initially provide mulch with the tree at the Nursery, but we do ask residents to bring their own bags or containers to put it in. After your tree is planted you can contact tree companies to receive mulch. If you coordinate with some neighbors, they can drop off a truck load usually for free.
+ Should I fertilize my tree?
Fruit trees typically need occasional fertilizer, but other trees should be fertilized only in rare circumstances, such as when diagnosed with chlorosis (“leaf yellows”), which may indicate a nutrient deficiency.
+ Can I make my tree grow faster?
Each species has its own growth rate dependant on environmental factors. Focus on making your tree healthy by providing adequate water and mulch. Shape the tree for efficient growth by pruning wisely in the winter.
+ When is it time to remove the tree stake?
Most trees take up to three years after planting to get established in the ground. To see if your tree is established, shake the tree trunk. If the the root ball does not move in the ground, it is established, and the stake is ready for removal.
+ I’ve taken out the green reddy stake. Where do I return it?
You can bring the stake to our office at 1590 Plumas Avenue or to our community nursery at 1000 Spring Street in San José. Thank you!
+ Do I still have to water my tree if it has been raining?
That depends on the amount of rain received. Your young tree needs 15 gallons of water per week. Use the rainfall calculator provided by the US Geological Survey to learn how much water your tree has received from a recent rain.To determine the size of your tree’s area, which is a required field on the rainfall calculator, use the approximate size of its canopy. For example, a tree with a canopy that measures four by four feet and received one inch of rain has caught approximately 10 gallons of water.
+ Is replacing the soil bad for the tree?
Replacing soil is disruptive to the root system of a tree. Moreover, it is pointless: no matter how much planting or potting soil you add to the site, your tree’s roots eventually will reach out to the surrounding area.
Tree Health Concerns
+ My tree looks like something is wrong with it. Can someone come out?
Our tree visits are entirely unfunded, so when possible we try to clear up problems over the phone or through email with a picture of the tree attached. What looks threatening to a tree’s health often is merely harmless and typical of the species. If you contact us, some of the questions we might ask you include:
- How frequently is the tree watered and with how much water?
- Is there trunk damage, especially near the base of the tree?
- Does the tree exhibit canopy-wide leaf discoloration or defoliation?
- Are branches dead?
- Is fungi growing out of parts of the tree?
If necessary one of our arborists will come to your house to to assess the health of your tree. In the event that the tree is diseased, you will need to call a certified arborist company for advice on how to treat the problem.
+ Is my tree dead or dying?
Check to see if the twigs are flexible. If they are brittle and snap off, they are dead. Check the trunk by scratching off a small portion of the bark with a fingernail. If the trunk is green underneath its bark the tree is alive; if it is brown, it is dead. If you determine that your recently planted tree is alive but its leaves are dropping or turning brown in spite of regular watering, it may be experiencing transplant shock. Trees usually recover from transplant shock as normal watering continues. Bear in mind that deciduous trees go dormant in the fall and drop their leaves. The one exception is the California Buckeye, which goes dormant in the summer and regains its leaves in the fall.
+ Can you refer me to an arborist?
Although we do not recommend any one company over another, the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) is the professional association that certifies arborists. Visit ISA's website for a Directory of Certified Arborists.
Below is a link of Tree Care Companies that have registered with the City of San Jose. Registered Tree Care Companies
These companies have shown that they have the proper Workers Compensation and Liability Insurance. It does not guarantee the quality of work performed. You should still confirm that they have certified arborists through the ISA website.
+ Can I move my tree? I don’t like where it is planted.
Trees should not be uprooted and replanted once established. The only trees that can be moved without harm are palms. Keep in mind that where the tree is planted has been reviewed for possible interference with underground wires and utility lines. The new spot that you are considering may not be away from underground infrastructure nor is allowable for other reasons.
+ My tree is leaning. Will OCF correct it?
Our goal is to inform residents on how to care for their young trees. Adjusting the tree stake as needed is part of the basic care that is specified in the Tree Stewardship Agreement that residents sign when they apply for a tree from us. However, we only provide free assistance for seniors and disabled residents. For service visits requested by other residents whose stakes need adjusting, we ask for a suggested donation. Contact email@example.com to learn more.
+ Why did the leaves on my tree drop sooner than those on my neighbor’s tree?
Trees of the same species have individual genetic makeups that could affect the timing of leaf drop in the fall. Variances in tree care such as watering and differences in location also are factors that may explain why trees drop leaves at different times.
+ Is it okay if my tree’s roots are exposed?
If the roots are large and woody it is fine for some of them to be exposed. If the root mass is lifting above ground, the tree is leaning over, or you can see many damaged roots, you should contact a professional arborist.
+ What are these ball-like things on my oak tree?
They are oak galls and are entirely harmless to the host tree. They’re made by small, insect-eating, solitary wasps as homes for their larvae. Oak galls support entire ecosystems and are important food for birds, such as woodpeckers.
+ Why is there a foam-like substance on my pine tree after it rains?
“Stem flow” occurs when water flows down the pine’s trunk to its root mass. Along the way it picks up resin, dust, and other materials that create a harmless foam when combined. Stem flow is similar to the foam that invisible on the surface of the ocean or a pond.
+ How do I keep squirrels away from my tree?
Unless you have a fruit tree or backyard orchard, do not bother. Fighting squirrels is costly and more often than not futile. Some of the methods used to drive away squirrels are traps, speakers to broadcast human voices, fake owls, and repellants.
+ When can I hang a tire swing from my tree?
The limb needs to be at least eight inches in diameter and no more than 20 feet off the ground. Avoid attaching swings to small canopy trees, pines, redwoods, and fruit trees. Oak trees are ideal for swings.
Was your question or concern not listed in our FAQs?
Please fill out one of the forms below and our team will do their best to help you. For already planted trees, fill out "Tree Care Question"; for questions about how to get a tree and planting help, fill out "Planting Question".