Increasing Our Tree Canopy

Access to shade is a social and environmental justice issue. 
Learn how you can make a difference.

By Nancy Brooks, Extension Master Gardener

A beautiful Quercus Alba (White Oak) at the Sunny Demonstration garden. Photo © 2014Elaine Mills
A beautiful Quercus Alba (White Oak) at the Sunny Demonstration garden.

“Across the nation, the wealthier and whiter your neighborhood is, the greener the view from your window is likely to be,” according to Ian Leahy and Yaryna Serkez in Since When Have Trees Existed Only for White People?, an opinion piece about the Tree Equity Score in The New York Times on June 30, 2021.

The Times cites two neighborhoods in Philadelphia. In Chestnut Hill, the median income is $133,000 and the tree canopy cover is 60%.  Across town in Nicetown-Tioga, the median income is $37,000 and the tree canopy cover is 6%.

Beating the Heat,” an article in the July 2021 National Geographic Magazine, tells a similar story. In wealthier Los Angeles neighborhoods, the contrast of tree canopy cover is 37% compared to impervious surface coverage of 40%.  However, in poorer neighborhoods, tree canopy coverage is 17% compared to impervious surface coverage of 67%.

Both articles describe how heat waves related to climate change across the United States are dramatically demonstrating the important role trees play in cooling down our environment. The average temperature between neighborhoods with trees and neighborhoods without trees can vary by 10 very hot degrees.

These articles and others reinforce the importance of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s focus on bringing our Extension Master Gardener (EMG) resources to underserved communities in Arlington and Alexandria as well as our reporting on the value of horticulture to improve health and quality of life.

Small Trees Make Big Canopies – VCE/MGNV

As 2019 EMG interns, Alicia Martini and Pam Quanrud began a very successful program called Small Trees Make Big Canopies.  They collect native saplings, pot them, and give them away at events like the Glencarlyn Library Community Garden’s spring celebration.

Redbud, magnolia and paw paw trees

A friend let me rescue some wee white oak (Quercus alba) trees from her property in Fairfax that was being sold. Doug Tallamy has taught us that white oaks have high wildlife value. I potted them up in 3-gallon pots and they will be added to the Small Trees Make Big Canopies nursery. As the trees have grown, so has the program team that now includes EMGs Kristi Provasnik and Scarlett Swan, as well as interns Nicola Farris and Kelly Williams.

Arlington County

The Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation will distribute 500 free native trees to Arlington residents this fall. Register for your tree at

Registration will open on Sept. 7, 2021.

Pickup Locations

Sat., Oct. 23, 2021, 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
Barcroft Baseball Field (known as Tucker Field) Parking Lot
4208 S Four Mile Run Dr.

Tues., Oct. 26, 2021, 4-6 p.m.
Bon Air Memorial Rose Garden Parking Lot
(Visit the Sunny Garden and the Shade Garden while you are there!)
850 N Lexington St. 22205

City of Alexandria Urban Forestry Management

In addition to managing the urban forest on public lands in Alexandria, the Urban Forestry Section of the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities works with other landowners to plant trees and increase tree canopy cover on private property. 

Residents may also request that a tree be planted to replace one that is removed from the street in front of their residence or business, or to fill in a space where no tree was previously located.  The Arborist staff will check to confirm that the location is suitable for a new tree, and if so, the City can install a tree at no cost to the resident. All that is asked is that the resident will commit to regularly water the new tree during the first two years of establishment.

Learn more at

EcoAction Arlington Tree Canopy Fund

EcoAction Arlington Logo

Another local source of free native trees is EcoAction Arlington’s Tree Canopy Fund. While the Fall deadline has passed, the Spring deadline is January 2022.

“Concerned about the declining tree canopy in Arlington? We are, too!

The goal of the Tree Canopy Fund is to increase Arlington County’s tree canopy. Through this program, owners of private property, including single-family homes, townhouses, condos, and places of worship, can apply to get a native tree planted on their property. Grants are also available for maintenance of champion trees. 

The program was originally authorized by Arlington County Board in 2007. The program is administered by EcoAction Arlington in partnership with the Urban Forestry Commission. Since its inception, we have planted more than 2,000 trees!”

Plant NOVA Trees

Plant NOVA Trees is a new campaign to plant more native trees in Northern Virginia. Like Plant NOVA Natives, Plant NOVA Trees, launched this September, is the collaborative effort of numerous organizations – including Extension Master Gardeners, Arlington Regional Master Naturalists, and Tree Stewards – that are pooling their resources to get the word out about the importance of planting and preserving native plants.

The five-year regional campaign is reaching out to residents, businesses, and communities in general and climate-vulnerable communities in particular. The campaign supports urban forest conservationist Jim McGlone in meeting the Virginia Department of Forestry’s goal of getting 600,000 trees planted in the region over the next five years.

A society grows great when old men (and women and children) plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. There are lots of ways to grow our tree canopy; this article describes just a few ways we can get involved.

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