Lake Norman & Mooresville

Charlotte’s tree canopy grows with free saplings

Charlotte’s suburban sprawl, with barren rows of tract houses and strip-malled parking lots, seems as far from a cool shady forest as you can get. TreesCharlotte sees things differently.

A nonprofit collaborative of public, private and corporate members led by Executive Director Dave Cable, TreesCharlotte’s mission is to help the city reach an ambitious goal approved by City Council: 50 percent tree canopy by mid-century, 2050. “Canopy” means the amount of land sheltered by a tree’s limbs and leaves. Imagine the space under an umbrella where you stay dry.

TreesCharlotte says public land, such as parks and greenways, is not enough. The parts of town with the most planting potential? Residential subdivisions.

Members of the group also feel that governmental intervention alone will not be enough. They envision a broad-based approach, with strong volunteer and citizen involvement and corporate support.

On Nov. 14, TreesCharlotte will enlist the public in its urban forestry dream by giving away free trees to Charlotte residents. There will be a limit of two trees per family for all who show up while supplies last.

The 50 percent canopy goal is part of Charlotte’s Urban Forest Management Plan. Adopted by council vote in 2013, the plan provides a blueprint for maintaining and expanding Charlotte’s trees over the coming decades.

It is a challenging task. Charlotte must plant a half-million trees, or 25,000 trees per year spread over two decades. Currently, tree canopy covers roughly 46 percent of the city.

Trees are living organisms that grow, mature and die, so establishing a sustainable canopy requires planting new seedlings regularly to replace trees as they age.

The Dilworth and Myers Park neighborhoods provide a useful case study. Their dignified streets lined by majestic willow oaks helped establish Charlotte as a “city of trees.” Many of those trees are now over a century old, and a few have recently fallen, causing property damage and, rarely, even injury or death.

“Our urban forest is old, fragile and depleting,” TreesCharlotte warns on its website. In response, the group advocates planting new trees across the city, in neighborhoods, school campuses, and natural areas.

Fortunately, Charlotte’s trees have significant factors working in their favor. Without human interference, the Charlotte area would naturally develop a climax ecosystem predominantly of hickories, oaks and other hardwoods, punctuated by evergreens such as red cedar and short-leaf pine.

For residents who take home trees from TreesCharlotte’s event, their 6- to 10-foot seedlings come with a few strings attached. Anyone who takes a sapling must receive training – provided at the event – on how to properly plant and care for their trees. Recipients must also complete and sign a “stewardship pledge,” a written promise to provide trees with conscientious care.

TreesCharlotte selected species that thrive here under urban conditions, but there is no guarantee of getting a specific type of tree. It is strictly first-come, first-served, and quantities are limited.

TreesCharlotte represents an unusually broad coalition, ranging from sister tree programs, such as Charlotte Public Tree Fund, to corporate partners. Among them also is Duke Energy.

Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer:

Want to go?

City Wide TreeStore will be held 9-11 a.m. Nov. 14 at the City of Charlotte Landscape Management, 701 Tuckaseegee Road, Charlotte. Two free 6- to 10-foot tree saplings per Charlotte household will be given away to each family, as longs trees last. Must be able to show proof of residency and have a valid email address. For more information, go to;; 704-432-2925.