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Why people say they don't want a free street tree

Top 5 reasons people say no to a free tree

Harshal Patel gets to the root of the issue
Harshal standing next to a street tree
Harshal with mature street tree

With the Street Tree Project officially wrapped up for [now], I find it important to reflect on how to advance projects and plan ahead for an even more successful year.

Although we were able to secure many street tree requests over the summer, we are always striving to improve this number.

As bizarre as it sounds, there were many different reasons why homeowners opted not to order a free street tree; the following list indicates (in no particular order)

Top Five Reasons

1. The root systems of the tree may compromise their home foundation and/or water pipelines

This is mainly a concern for homeowners with large trees or with older homes that use the original piping. Newer piping is typically made of steel, copper, and plastic; the only reason why tree roots would disrupt the piping would be if there was a crack in the piping to begin with, resulting in roots navigating themselves towards this water source. Homeowners concerned about a tree being destructive towards their foundation may request a smaller variety of tree, as the Street Tree Program offers approximately 70 different species.

2. Trees in their neighbourhood have resulted in damage to private property in the past

Unfortunately, it may be hard to dissociate yourself from negative personal experiences. Fortunately, the Street Tree Program maintains the trees, but to play it safe, you can select smaller tree species that would not grow big enough to cause significant damage in the unlikely chance of the tree falling or breaking branches.

3. Their lots are perceived to be too small, or they believe it would increase the complexity of their property maintenance

Contrary to layperson beliefs, the Street Tree Project does not require a large space for a potential tree. Specifically, for a standard lot there needs to be 1.5m of space from the driveway, 1m from the sidewalk, and up to 3m from the house itself. In terms of increasing the complexity of property maintenance, unless physically restricted, the relatively small increase in property maintenance (eg. cutting grass around the tree) would be compensated by the increase in property value a tree would add.

4. A tree may block sunlight for their home or for other plants on their lot

Shade from trees can help cool the home in summer (resulting in energy savings) while letting light through in winter with the leaves off. Although many trees may eventually shade homes, there are many trees the Street Tree Program offers that have a relatively small spread, such as the Pyramidal English Oak or the Amur Maple. A tree with a smaller spread would be the best solution to prevent excessive shading of the home or other plants.

5. They don’t give our volunteers a chance to talk to them, believing we represent a scam or a for-profit corporation on a commission basis

Men in construction vests and hard hats using shovels planting a street tree
City contractors planting a street tree

Although most people are quite friendly towards our volunteers, we do get many homeowners who refuse to speak to us because they “don’t want to buy anything!” Moving forward, we are hoping to become more recognizable due to awareness of the Street Tree Program, and OPIRG McMaster’s Street Tree Project.


Education of the positive interactions between properties and trees may be successful in getting more street tree requests and would help to start a movement towards a street tree being the norm. As a proactive move towards making this the norm, homes in new subdivisions are being equipped with street trees before homeowners move in. In a city with as much history and culture as Hamilton, I hope to walk down the streets in 20 years during the summer and be shaded by an ever-expanding urban canopy cover.