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Des Moines Public Works offering residents five free ‘tiny trees’


A young Redbud tree. Redbuds are one of the saplings on offer from the 2022 Tiny Trees program. — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

There are weeks of winter still to trudge through, but anyone in Des Moines looking to add trees to their property can start planning for spring, because Des Moines Public Works is taking orders for its Tiny Trees program. The program, which was launched in 2017, provides up to five free ready-to-plant saplings to Des Moines residents each year. Last year, Public Works set a record by distributing over 2,100 tiny trees.

The program is designed to bolster Des Moines urban tree canopy, not just by increasing the number of trees, but also by increasing the diversity

Foresters have always been aware of the importance of having a good mix of different trees to sustain an urban landscape, but city planners and real estate developers used to prize uniformity over diversity. For the first half of the 20th century, elm trees dominated landscapes in the neighborhoods across America. But then in the 1950s, Dutch elm disease began to spread, relentlessly killing off the trees. Ash trees were a common replacement, standing for decades, until the emerald ash borer arrived in the United States in 2002. The voracious, hard-to-kill ash tree killers reached Iowa in 2010.

Creating a diversity of trees means a city’s or neighborhood’s tree canopy is far less vulnerable to single threat like Dutch elm disease or the emerald ash borer. Tiny Trees is offering a choice of seven different trees, from shade trees to ornamental trees, and even an evergreen.

• River Birch

• Swamp White Oak

• Sycamore

• Chinkapin Oak

• Elderberry

• Redbud

• Wild Plum

• Bald Cypress

“We rotate what we select from the state nursery, where we get these through a bulk order … We rotate so we can both get not just popular trees, but trees that are underrepresented in the tree canopy so that we build the resilience of the urban forest to particular depredations from past or disease,” Jonathan Gano, director of Des Moines Public Works, told Little Village.

Saplings can be ordered online at the Tiny Trees site. They will be available for pick-up at a drive-through site in the spring on a date still to be determined. Public Works relies on volunteers to help staff members with the distribution process. Information on how to volunteer is available online, and anyone with question about the program can call Public Works at 515-283-4950.

Don’t have a green thumb? No worries. According to Gano, “Even if only one or two out of every 99 trees given away makes it, we will still be ahead … on canopy production for the dollars invested.”


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