The City of Harrisburg’s Shade Tree Program is managed by the Department of Parks, Recreation & Facilities. The City has jurisdiction over the trees planted along streets, in medians, and in public parks. It does not regulate trees growing elsewhere on private property, except when such a tree poses a threat to public health, safety, or property. A Tree Permit is required for planting, pruning, or removing trees within the public right-of-way. The first step is to request a street tree inspection. The City Forester, a Certified Arborist, will visit the property to assess the condition of the tree and determine what work is needed. Provide the information requested electronically on the Tree Inspection & Permit Request form (preferred) or call the office and provide the information by phone to Alicia Davidson at (717) 255-3003.
Trees provide a vast array of financial, ecological, and social benefits to the City of Harrisburg and its residents. Well-maintained trees in residential neighborhoods can significantly increase the value of homes and property by creating a sense of privacy and adding to the beauty of the landscape.
Commercial areas benefit also, as studies have shown how tree-lined storefronts attract shoppers, increase the length of time people shop, and increase the amount shoppers are willing to pay for goods. Cooling and heating costs can be reduced by strategically placing trees around buildings.
Tree canopies reduce the amount and rate at which rain water strikes the ground, thereby reducing erosion and stormwater management costs. They improve air quality by filtering particulates out of the air, absorbing carbon dioxide, and releasing oxygen. Trees reduce noise, provide a contrast to hard concrete and paved surfaces, help connect people to the natural world, and reduce stress. To maximize benefits, trees must remain healthy and vigorous.
It’s essential to select a tree suitable for the planting site, and to provide proper care throughout the life of the tree. Here is a helpful link from the Arbor Day Foundation to information on selecting, planting, pruning and caring for a tree. Information specific to Harrisburg’s program follows.
- Tree Ownership
- Tree Maintenance
- Tree Planting
- Dead & Dying Trees
Street trees are trees that are in the city’s right-of-way, generally between the sidewalk and curbing of a public street. Street trees are regulated by the City of Harrisburg. However, street trees are owned and must be maintained by the owner of the property on which the street tree is located. Trees growing elsewhere on a property are not regulated by the City, EXCEPT when such as tree poses a threat to public health, safety, or property.
City and property owner responsibilities regarding trees are spelled out in the city’s Shade Tree Ordinance.
Tree maintenance and all the costs associated with tree care are the responsibility of the property owner, both for trees growing along the streets (“street trees”) and for those growing elsewhere on the property. An exception is granted, however, for street trees on owner-occupied properties where the owner is 65 years old or more. The City maintains a limited fund with which to assist seniors with street tree pruning and removal needs approved by the City Forester.
Although street trees are owned by the person who owns the property, they are regulated by the City. A Tree Permit must be obtained before a street tree may be planted, pruned or removed. No permit is required for tree work elsewhere on private property, but such trees are regulated by the City should they pose a threat to public health, safety, or property.
Provide the information requested on the Tree Inspection & Permit Request form or by phone at (717) 255-3003. Use the same process to report an overgrown or dangerous tree on someone else’s property.
PLEASE NOTE: Tree topping IS NOT an acceptable pruning practice! It causes irreversible damage to trees. The following publication illustrates what topping is and why it is so harmful.
Tree planting and all the costs associated with tree planting and establishment are the responsibility of the property owner, both for trees planted along the street (“street trees”) and for those planted elsewhere on the property. Although a new street tree is owned by the person who owns the property, it is regulated by the City. A Tree Permit must be obtained before a street tree may be planted, pruned or removed. Provide the information requested on the Tree Inspection & Permit Request form or by phone at (717) 255-3003.
A list of trees approved for planting adjacent to the street is located here. Learn how to plant a new tree by clicking here. Street trees must measure at least 1.5” in caliper (trunk diameter measured at 6” above the ground) and should be about 9’-12’ in height.
Newly planted trees require 15 gallons of water each week throughout the first two growing seasons to ensure successful establishment. Grass and weeds should be removed from a 4-foot area around the tree, and replaced with a 3-inch layer of mulch surrounding but not touching the tree trunk. Mulch helps to control weeds and keeps mowers and string trimmers from damaging the fragile bark.
Removal of dead, dying, and structurally unsound trees and all the costs associated with tree removal are the responsibility of the property owner, both for trees growing along the street (“street trees”) and for those growing elsewhere on the property. An exception is granted, however, for street trees on owner-occupied properties where the owner is 65 years old or more. The City maintains a limited fund with which to assist seniors with street tree pruning and removal needs approved by the City Forester.
Although street trees are owned by the person who owns the property, they are regulated by the City. A Tree Permit must be obtained before a street tree may be removed. No permit is required for tree work elsewhere on private property, but such trees are regulated by the City should they pose a threat to public health, safety, or property.
Provide the information requested on the Tree Inspection & Permit Request form or by phone at (717) 255-3003. Use the same process to report a dangerous tree on someone else’s property.
I want to remove or prune a tree that is next to the street. Do I need a permit?
Yes, if the tree is planted between the sidewalk and the curb, or otherwise within the public right-of-way, you must obtain a Tree Permit before proceeding. Provide the information requested on the Tree Inspection and Permit Request form or call (717) 255-3003 to provide the information over the phone. The City Forester will inspect the tree to determine the work needed, and the permit can then be issued.
I want to remove or prune a tree in my back yard (or another location that is not next to the street). Do I need a permit?
No, such trees are not regulated by the City, unless deemed a threat to public health, safety or property.
I’m worried a tree on someone else’s property will fall and hurt someone. What should I do?
Complete a Tree Inspection and Permit Request form as outlined in Question 1. An inspection will be completed and the property owner will be notified and required to take action as needed.
I’d like to report a dangerous tree in my neighborhood, but am afraid the property owner will be angry with me for reporting it. Must I provide my name in order to report a tree?
Yes, a name and phone number are required, should the City Forester have questions regarding the tree reported. Your contact information will not be provided to the property owner if you request that it not be.
I know that the tree on my property is dangerous, but I don’t have the money to take it down. Is any help available?
At the present time, hazardous trees on properties owned (and occupied) by senior citizens aged 65 or older will be removed (or pruned) by the City through a private contractor, at no charge to the property owner. Financial assistance is not currently available for younger property owners.
I didn’t plant the tree in front of my property. Why am I responsible for the costs of maintaining it?
You probably didn’t pour the concrete sidewalk in front of your house either, but maintaining that is your responsibility as a property owner. Trees are considered part of the property, and ownership of the trees on the property transfer with the title to the property.
I want to plant a new tree. What kind should I plant?
First, consider the planting space available, and understand that some tree species will grow to be much larger at maturity than others. Measure the size of the tree pit (sidewalk cutout) or planting strip, if there is a grassy strip between the sidewalk and the curb. Most are inadequate to support a large tree without causing significant sidewalk heave.
If the tree pit or planting strip is not greater than 4 feet X 4 feet, it’s best to select only a small maturing tree.
If there are overhead wires, regardless of how large the tree pit is, only small maturing trees that will not grow up to interfere with the powerlines are permissible.
If there are no overhead wires, consider cutting the concrete to enlarge the opening to at least 5 feet by 5 feet (the bigger the better.) Larger maturing trees provide more benefits– shade, air purification, stormwater uptake—and are strongly recommended wherever space permits.
Refer to the list of City approved trees provided under “Tree Planting.” Complete a Tree Inspection and Permit Request form as detailed in Question 1. The City Forester will inspect the site and recommend species that would work for the site.
I’d like to plant a new tree where one was removed. Is this possible?
Yes, but it is necessary to have the old stump ground out as thoroughly as possible, to a depth of 24”, and the wood chips must be replaced with topsoil to support the new tree.
Why should I plant a tree when it may eventually lift my sidewalk?
In cities around the world, researchers have carefully measured the costs involved in planting and caring for trees, against the dollar value of the ecological services trees provide. In every situation, the benefits outweigh the costs many times over.
Trees are the lungs of a city. They take up carbon dioxide and air pollutants and intercept particulate matter on their leaf surfaces. As they cleanse the air we breathe, they simultaneously producing oxygen as they grow. They cool our homes and reduce energy costs. They take up stormwater that would otherwise pollute our waterways. They soften and add beauty to our lives. They calm us.
Trees lift sidewalks because we do not allow them the space they need to grow. If we plan for trees, providing adequate growing space where possible, and selecting more suitable species where it’s not, we can greatly reduce the kinds of sidewalk/tree conflicts we now face.
My neighbor’s tree is extending into my yard. What can I do?
You have the right to remove any part of a tree that extends over the property line onto your property. If it is a street tree, it is necessary to first obtain a Tree Permit. The process is as outlined in Question 1.