What does that mean?
Why would anyone want to do setback planting?
- Setback planting refers to the practice of placing street trees
behind the sidewalk and out of the right-of-way.
- Trees purchased with public funds are normally planted on public
property, and it often seems at first glance to be "wrong" or "impossible"
to put them anywhere else.
greater rooting volume: more soil for the roots generally
means a healthier tree, because more water and nutrients are available.
less pruning: setback trees interfere much less with wires
and roads, resulting in less pruning and fewer opportunities for decay.
lower stress: trees away from the streets and highways will
not be as affected by road salt, compaction, or heat load.
better early care: during the critical years after transplanting,
trees on private property tend to receive more attention and less abuse.
- Public trees placed behind the right-of-way on private land remain
healthier, live longer, stay safer, and cost less in the long run.
- There are many reasons why trees behind the sidewalk do better:
How is such planting possible? Isn’t it against the
law or something?
- What matters most is to convince people that planting public trees
on private property behind the sidewalk lies in the common interest of the
- There is no single way that communities get this done.
- Some communities use easements, treating the tree like a
sort of utility pole.
- Other communities fill out a very short written agreement
- Still others have no formal mechanism, they just do it and
- But in all cases, keep it simple. It takes communication, understanding,
and negotiation between homeowners and local officials for setback planting
planting of sugar maple
Who takes care of setback trees?
Where is setback planting of particular value?
- Again, arrangements vary from community to community.
- Some communities prefer to treat setback trees like all other ROW
trees. Public workers maintain them, and the community is liable for any
damage that occurs.
- Other communities turn the trees completely over to the homeowner
after planting, so that the community has no future responsibility.
- Combinations of these alternatives exist too! Communities need to
decide what they need.
Where can I get more information?
- Narrow tree lawns that provide little rooting volume.
- High salt areas that stress trees with drought and kill their
- Sites with low overhead wires that force repeated massive
Bloniarz, D. V., and H. D. Ryan III. 1993. "Designing Alternatives
to Avoid Street Tree Conflicts." Journal of Arboriculture. 19(3),
152-156. For other information, advice and help on this topic, call offices
of your State Urban Forestry Coordinator or University Extension service,
visit urban forestry web sites.