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Tree FAQs

What kind of tree should I plant?

Unfortunately, this question doesn't have a simple answer. The answer all depends on what kind of space you have available for a tree (above and below ground), what you expect out of your tree (fruit, flowers, shade, height, fall color, etc.) and last but not least, the conditions you have to grow a tree (shade, part shade, dry, moist, windy, sheltered, etc.). Once you answer those questions that will help narrow your search so that you can ask a nursery professional. Also, this website could be helpful, though it's based in California, so keep in mind that not all trees suggested will grow or be available here in the PNW, though it's an excellent start.

When is the right time to prune?

Generally, the best time to prune a tree (any kind) is in the winter. Very small amounts of pruning with specific objectives, such as for clearance or to remove dead, damaged or diseased tree limbs can be done in the summer. It's best to avoid pruning in the spring due to most trees waking up from dormancy and avoid the fall due to the increased amount of fungal spores, decay or disease causing from entering the pruning wounds.Who is responsible for maintaining the tree in the planting strip (right-of-way) in front of my house? You are. In Tacoma, it's the abutting property owner's responsibility to maintain the right-of-way in a manner that is safe for the public. For more information, check out our What is Right-of-Way page.What is the right-of-way? Isn't that City property? Please see our What is Right-of-Way page. Right-of-way is typically property jointly owned by the public for transportation and/or utility uses and the adjacent property owner.My neighbor's tree hangs over my property, blocks my view, drops it's leaves, etc., is there anything the City can do? The City does not get involved in civil matters, which is what the above examples are considered. However, if the tree poses a significant and immediate threat to public health, safety or welfare, the City does have authority to act. See our Tree Problems page for more information.I have ivy growing up my tree. Will this harm my tree? Eventually yes. Ivy adds weight to a tree that the tree has adapted to carrying, causing extra stress on the wood which can lead to failures. Additionally, if the infestation is severe, the ivy can shade out limbs, causing them to dieback, thereby reducing the tree's ability to feed itself.How do I remove the ivy from my tree? The good thing is that this is relatively easier than it seems. The best management practice is to cut the ivy stems once about 1-2' up the trunk and then cut again at the base of the tree, pulling out the ivy away from the trunk for several feet. This creates what is called a life ring around the tree. Ivy will need to be removed for this area in an on-going basis to prevent reinfestation. Do not pull the ivy from the trunk, as it can often cause damage to the bark of the tree. The City of Portland has some great information about ivy and its impacts.How do I find a good arborist? Check out Hiring a Good Arborist page.Do I need a permit to remove or prune a tree from my private property or from the right-of-way? Please see our Pruning and Removal page.Do I need a permit to plant a tree in the right-of-way? Yes. For more information, please see our Right Tree, Right Place page. There's moss/lichen growing on my tree, should I remove it? Is it hurting the tree? The moss/lichen growing on your tree is not harming it and it should not be removed. The moss/lichen growth on trees is common in areas where humidity is high, such as Western Washington. Removal is likely to cause damage to the tree and it's likely the regrowth of moss/lichen will occur. It's best to leave it be. In fact, rejoice that they there, because both are typically indicators that air quality is good. Read an interesting article if you want to learn more about moss and lichen.My tree is declining, how do I reclaim it?  Is there anything I can do? Unfortunately, the answer is no. If a tree is showing obvious signs of decline, especially if it's a mature tree, there is no bouncing back or healing like there is for us. Typically, trees continue to decline over the process of many years. Depending on the reasons for decline, removal may need to occur immediately, such as with Dutch Elm Disease or Elm Yellows, or in several years, such as from construction damage or senescence.What's the sticky stuff on the sidewalks in the summer under my tree? How do I get rid of it? The sticky stuff is called honeydew and it's a waste product from sucking insects such as aphids and scale. These insects tend to reach their peak population at the beginning and height of summer. Severe repeated infestations can negatively impact the health of your tree. What to do:

  • Make sure that your tree isn't stressed by drought (water your tree, even mature trees, in the dry months).
  • Avoid causing other stress such as through construction around the tree, compaction to the root system (from parking or repeatedly walking over the root system)-add a three to four inch layer of mulch around the tree to lessen compaction and retain moisture-be sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk of the tree.
  • As a last resort, consider using the least harmful insecticide that specifically targets these insects. Ask your local nursery retailer for tips. Remember that insecticides often negatively impact the beneficial insects as well as the nuisance.
  • More information about aphid management.
My tree is too tall; can't I just top it to prevent it from growing too big? We're afraid the answer is no. For more information, including alternatives to topping, please see our Stop Tree Topping page. I don't know what my tree needs--pruning, removal, fertilization, etc. How do I find out? If your tree is located on private property, it's best to contact a Consulting Arborist. If the tree is located in the right-of-way (commonly the planting strip area), a free consultation with a City Arborist is available to you. Call 311 to schedule a consultation.Have a question that is not answered here or that you think should be? Please call 311 within Tacoma or (253) 591-5000 from anywhere else.

Do you still have a question?

Call 311 within Tacoma or (253) 591-5000 from anywhere else.


Sign up for free tree selection, planting, pruning, and other gardening workshops at the EnviroHouse.