Choosing Street Trees (Philadelphia and the MidAtlantic)

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Choosing street trees can be overwhelming task. There are a few key points to consider, native species, location of power lines, and a few others.

Spring and Fall are the ideal times to plant trees here on the east coast. The City of Philadelphia gives out free native trees to city residents every spring and fall through the Tree Philly Campaign.  The times I have volunteered during giveaway days, only native trees were given out. Residents had a choice between small or large trees.

The Tree Philly helpers explain how to plant and tree care to residents that pick up trees. To find out more about the program and sign-up, visit the Tree Philly website.


Glowing gold leaves in the Wissahickon Valley Park. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Glowing gold leaves in the Wissahickon Valley Park. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Choosing Street Trees for Tough Urban and Suburban Conditions

Fairmount Park provides a “Recommended Street Tree List” that consists of both native and non-native trees. I modified that list by removing the non-native trees. The original list has more trees that are suitable to harsh urban conditions of pollution, soil compaction and lack of water. It is just that those extra trees are not native to Philadelphia. Native trees are the best choice in boosting the city’s ecosystem.

The best results will come from matching the tree to the situation. Small and medium trees will work best under power lines. Taller trees will work best with no overhead power lines, as them may not need to be trimmed. If you live in Philadelphia, PECO (Philadelphia Electric COmpany) does a horrible job trimming street trees. Once the PECO folks are finished whacking, our street trees looked like monsters from a science fiction movie. It seems like the PECO trimmers are mad that there are trees at all.

This Common trees of PA booklet is a handy guide to use to learn the most common trees that make up Pennsylvania and Philadelphia habitats.

A similar List of Native Trees for Philadelphia Backyards and other less stressed situations.

Street trees long the Quai De Conti in Paris. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Street trees along the Quai De Conti in Paris. Photo by Donna L. Long, 2014. All rights reserved.

Your Street Trees, Powerlines, and Planting By the Curb

Here is a tip I learn from the folks in charge of trimming street trees here in Philly. The tips probably work in other urban/suburban areas, too. Look at the power lines that run across your property. If there are three or more lines running above the street, this is a major power line and trees under these lines will be cut (mangled) to insure power. You may want to not plant a tree underneath these wires or carefully prune a small tree to let the wires pass freely through the trees.

If you have no power lines or only one where you want to plant, then you lucked out. Busy PECO won’t cut those trees as they don’t interfere with important power lines.

If you want to plant a tree by a curb, it has to be big and strong enough to survive being backed into. A thin, delicate dogwood, will have a hard time surviving being parked under.

See also Paris Lessons: Street Trees and Strolling in the Shade


places - forest
Forbidden Drive, Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia. Photo by Donna L. Long. 

A List of City Street Trees

The following list only has trees that are native to Philadelphia. All the trees will tolerate harsh urban conditions. Choosing street trees that have a broad open canopy will give wide-spread shade. It takes a tree ten to fifteen years to grow enough to give shade. Even smaller forty-foot tall trees can give shade and cut summer cooling bills.

Small Trees – (mature height under 30 feet)
Amelanchier x grandiflora — Seviceberry
Carpinus caroliniana — American Redbud
Crataegus crusgalli var. inermis — Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn
Prunus virginiana — Common Chokecherry
Prunus virginiana — “Shubert” — Canada Red Chokecherry

Medium Trees – (mature height 30 feet to 40 feet)
Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis — Thornless Honeylocust
Ostrya virginiana – Hop Hornbeam

Large Trees – (mature height over 45 feet)
Acer rubrum “Autumn Flame” — Autumn Flame Red Maple
Acer rubrum “Red Sunset” — Red Sunset Red Maple
Acer saccharum “Green Mountain” — Green Mountain Sugar Maple
Fraxinus americana ” Autumn Purple” — Autumn Purple White Ash
Fraxinus pennsylvanica “Marshall’s Seedless” — Green Ash
Fraxinus pennsylvanica “Patmore” — Patmore Ash
Fraxinus pennsylvanica “Summit” — Summit Ash
Quercus shumardii — Shumard Oak

Narrow Streets
Acer rubrum “Armstrong” — Fastigate Red Maple
Acer saccharum “Goldspire” — Goldspire Maple
Quercus palustris “Pringreen” — Green Pillar Pin Oak


Boulevard or Park Trees
Carya glabra — Pignut Hickory
Carya ovata — Shagbark Hickory
Juniperus virginiana — “princeton Sentry” — Eastern Redcedar
Liquidambar styraciflua — Tuliptree
Nyssa sylvatica — Black Tupelo
Quercus alba — White Oak
Quercus bicolor — Swamp White Oak
Quercus palustris — Pin Oak
Quercus phellos — Willow Oak
QUercus rubra — Red Oak
Ulmus americana “Delaware” — Delaware American Elm


I hope post was helpful in choosing street trees. I of course could not choose trees suitable for all regions of the continent. But I think this general considerations will raise the universal issues of placing trees on city, village, or suburban streets.

See also:

Why Trees Shed Their Leaves in the Fall 

Why Do Leaves Change Color

We're Listening

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.