City of Colorado Springs / Forestry / Forestry & Tree Resources / An Urban Tree Care Guide

An Urban Tree Care Guide


The City Forester is responsible for the maintenance and management of trees in parks and along streets in the public right-of-way (R.O.W.).* The assistance of adjacent homeowners is needed for watering, fertilizing and mulching trees on public property. If an adjacent property owner desires to have additional work done on street trees, they must first obtain a permit from the City Forester's Office

Street Tree Planting

New Home Tree Ordinance After occupancy, new homeowners may be eligible to obtain a certificate to supplement the purchase a tree for planting along their street frontage. If a certificate is not used by a homeowner, a tree is planted elsewhere in the neighborhood. Call City Forestry for information on obtaining a certificate.

Street Tree Planting Diagram
Street Tree Planting Diagram

*Note: Right-of-way planting by property owner. Any planting of trees in the street R.0.W. must first be acompanied by a planting permit obtained at the City Forester's Office.

Park Tree Planting

  • Trees are planted in new parks, and older parks are renovated as funding allows.
Tree Tribute Program
  • Citizens can arrange a tree planting to honor or memorialize friends and family members. There is a cost associated, please call 385-6520 for more information.
Tree Removal
  • Public trees that are a hazard, dead, diseased or cause a visual obstruction of vehicular/ pedestrian traffic will be removed . Tree removal includes removal of the stump.
  • Trees on private property that are hazardous or infected/infested with Dutch elm disease or Mountain Pine Beetle will be condemned and are required to be removed by the property owner.
Tree Pruning
  • Trees in the right-of-way and parks are on a scheduled 10 to 12 year pruning cycle. Periodic pruning reduces storm damage, provides for sidewalk and street clearance, eliminates traffic hazards, and improves their general health. Scheduled maintenance helps keep our urban forest safe and healthy and is cost effective.
  • We will interrupt the prune schedule if there is an immediate need, such as a hazard.
Tree Protection
Where construction or excavation is taking place within 20' of a tree certain root/branch pruning or augering may be required.
Tree Service Licensing
Companies who perform tree work (on trees 15' or taller) for hire in Colorado Springs must be licensed by the City. They demonstrate their ability by passing a written examination and field exams.
Tree Insect, Disease and Hazard Management
Serious insect and disease problems on public trees are treated as City budget and schedule allows. Inspections also regularly occur to address any hazardous situations.
Information and Education

Urban forestry information is available to all citizens via presentations, brochures, hand-outs, news releases, public tree inspections and call-ins as staff time allows.

*Note: A right-of-way is a City-owned area of land designated for streets, sidewalks, and public use. It includes the parkway between sidewalks and curbs. Where sidewalks are attached to curbs, the right-of-way usually extends a distance into the property. The exact distance varies from street to street. Call City Forestry at 385-5942 for details.


The pruning, spraying (for disease or insect control), and if necessary, removal of street trees in the right-of-way is a service of City Forestry. The planting watering, fertilizing, wrapping and mulching of street trees is the responsibility of the homeowner. If an adjacent property owner desired to have additional work done on street trees, they must first obtain a permit from the City Forester's Office. 

The following paragraphs deal with general information on care and maintenance of trees wherever they are planted. Older established trees will benefit from this type of care, as well as newly planted trees. 

Selecting a Tree for Planting
  • Before going to a nursery to select a tree look at the site where you will be planting. Decide about size, shape and other features (color, flower, fruit, drought-tolerance etc.) that you want in a tree.
  • Use "Trees for Colorado Springs," a tree species matrix to select a tree for your site. Also, consult with your local nursery.
  • When selecting a tree avoid trees with wounds and bruises on the trunk. Check for a sound root ball and look at the branching. Avoid choosing trees with included branching, codominant stems, or many branches originating from the same point.
  • Note: It is good for the establishment and health of a tree to leave the area around it free of grass and to mulch with wood chips. Also, this will keep lawnmowers and weed whips from wounding the trunk and causing early death of the tree.
Trees are offered for sale in the following ways:
  • Bare Root: These trees are dug from nursery fields in the fall. They are stored during winter without soil around the roots in high humidity and low temperature cold storage. Transplant shock is high so planting must occur before new growth occurs. Due to low humidity, it is absolutely essential to keep the roots moist while handling and transporting bare root stock. Packaged trees are bare root trees with the roots packed in moist material. This is the most economical way to plant trees, but also the most risky.
  • Potted/Container: These trees are planted in a container either as bare root stock or with a soil ball. Potted trees are trees placed in a container and sold in the same season. Container trees are grown for one full growing season in the container prior to sale. Trees with established root systems in containers suffer little transplant shock and can be planted at any time. Circling roots can be a problem if trees are grown in containers too long. Avoid "container grown." Bigger isn't better when selecting container trees, instead, focus on healthy wound-free trees which are not potbound.
  • Balled and Burlapped (B&B): These trees are dug with a firm ball of soil around the roots held securely by burlap and a wire basket. Because of their weight they can be more difficult to handle, and often cost more than other types of stock. The advantage is a lack of circling roots. B & B trees can be planted anytime, however, extreme care is needed if planting occurs in the heat of summer.
Planting Trees
Tree Planting Diagram
Tree Planting Diagram

"It’s better to put a $10 tree into a $100 hole than a $100 tree in a $10 hole."
  1. Locate the root flare (bulge where the stem tissue and root tissue meet) to determine how deep to dig your hole. If you can't find the bulge or any main roots, you may need to remove some of the soil from the top of the root ball. Measure root ball depth from the root flare to the bottom of the root ball.
  2. Prepare a hole no deeper than the root ball and twice as wide.
  3. If potted or containerized, remove the containers carefully and untangle circling roots. If there is a wire basket or twine, remove carefully without loosening the root ball.
  4. Back fill with existing soil. This may be amended with some organic material, but not more than a third of the total backfill.
  5. Water thoroughly.
  6. Apply a 4" layer of mulch around the base of the tree to help hold in moisture and keep out competing plants. Keep grass, weeds and other plantings from the base of the tree. This will assure good establishment for your tree.
  7. If needed for a windy site, brace tree with steel fence post. Secure with bracing straps. Place one stake on windward side of tree to lessen wind damage. Use 2 or 3 stakes as needed. Be sure to remove staking materials after one or two growing seasons.
  8. Proper watering is critical to your tree's survival. Do not over water! Check soil moisture regularly throughout the year. Poor drainage or over watering is the main reason newly planted trees don't survive.
Street Tree Planting Requirements
  • Obtain a Planting Permit from the City Forester's Office.
  • New street trees of 1 1/4" caliper or greater are preferred for planting in the public right-of-way.
  • Large-growing trees shall be planted at least 40 feet apart. Small crown trees may be planted 25 feet apart and medium-growing trees 30 feet apart.
  • A new street tree should be planted in the center of the parkway. If the sidewalk abuts the curb, the new tree should be 5-7 feet from the sidewalk.
  • Planting in a parkway less than 4 feet wide is prohibited.
  • All trees planted along street frontages must be "Suitable as Street Trees" in the "Trees for Colorado Springs" tree matrix brochure.
  • Street trees planted on corner lots must be at least 40 feet from the corner.
Watering* New plantings
Construct a basin or "tree well" around the base of the tree, unless it is in an irrigated lawn. A sapling or young tree requires a basin three feet in diameter. Water the tree slowly. Let the hose run at a trickle into the basin, and soak the soil. Generally, it is best to water newly-planted trees at least weekly for the first month and once every two or three weeks for the next year. All trees take special care in watering the first 2-3 years to become established. 

New Plantings and Established Trees

The drought tolerance of a tree is a factor to consider when deciding how much to water a tree. Some trees grow better in drier sites and some in wetter sites. Consult "Trees for Colorado Springs" tree matrix to help determine the watering need of your tree(s).

Soil texture ranges from heavy clay, to sand. In heavy clay, watering may be done less often, but run-off problems may require watering in two half-hour periods in order to achieve the suggested soaking. Sandy soils, on the other hand, will dry out more quickly, requiring you to water more often.

When the nights turn cool and the days shorten, it is best to stop watering trees and other plants. This is the time during which plants prepare for winter through a process referred to as "hardening off".

Since watering encourages continued growth, trees cannot accomplish this natural anti-freeze preparation before frost begins causing "winter kill". Keep in mind that, wind, temperature, exposure and drainage also influence watering need.

Always allow for lawn irrigation and natural watering by rain or snowfall, and adjust your watering schedule accordingly.

The wisest thing to do for your trees and other landscape plants is to work organic matter into the soil. This provides aeration, moisture retention, and beneficial organisms to Colorado's "tough" soils. Compost and other high humus compounds can be used as soil conditioners. ADHERE TO ANY CURRENT WATERING RESTRICTIONS!


Newly planted trees should not be fertilized until their root systems have estabished. Establishment periods are typically 1-2 years for every diameter inch in tree size. Slow release nitrogen fertilizers are best. Apply after leaves have developed in May. Fertilize for tree health, not to induce growth.

Pest Control

Trees, like other plants, are subject to insect infestations, which may endanger their well-being. If insects are at damaging levels, properly-timed spraying or soil injected pesticides are needed to control these infestations.

The decision to use pesticides should be made only after careful consideration. In many cases, undesirable insects are already being controlled by natural enemies or weather conditions and/or the health of the tree is not being affected.

Some situations may require pest control but before this is done, have a proper diagnosis of the problem. Know the pest name, plant name and the product recommended for best control. Blanket spraying of entire yards is a poor practice. Non-chemical methods of control should be considered first.

A pesticide used for trees and shrubs insects must be labeled for the target pest and/or the tree it's on. Read the label completely before using any pesticide.

Note: your overall landscape plan (proper planting and pruning, mulching and watering) will greatly reduce the tree's risk of infestations by insects and disease and reduce the need for spray applications.


Training trees by properly pruning the tree when it is young will minimize future maintenance problems. Also, it will create a better formed and healthier tree.

Be sure to remove all dead, diseased and broken branches. The remaining branches will become healthier and better able to withstand heavy snow buildup.

When pruning larger branches, first, make an undercut about six inches from the main branch. Cut it off from the top down, and then remove the stub at the branch collar. This method prevents stripping of the bark.

Never leave a stub. Stubs can become an entry point for decay-causing organisms. Proper cuts will callous properly. Do not apply any tree wound paint. Research reveals that trees callous faster, and with less likelihood of infection, when no wound dressings are applied.

It is also important not to make flush cuts that wound the tree. Use a professional, licensed tree service when the job is beyond your ability or skill.

All tree service firms working in Colorado Springs must be licensed and insured.

Remember Never Top Trees!  Topping is an unacceptable method of pruning which increases a tree's maintenance needs, and creates weaker and more hazardous branches. For more information on "topping trees" click here: Don't top trees!

Construction and Trenching Around Trees

When building or digging is done near trees it its important to consider tree roots. Soil compaction or cutting and tearing can seriously affect the health and safety of a tree. Consult a qualified arborist before working around trees.

Note: Contractors are required to call for an inspection and permit BEFORE work on sidewalks or driveways in the City right-of-way within 20' of street trees.

Call us before doing construction around trees!


  • Forestry Ordinance: Regulates the removal, spraying, pruning and planting of approved trees in the right-of-way. It authorizes City Forestry to remove, spray, or prune trees located in the right-of-way or city parks. Crews do the work by schedule and not in response to individual calls (except in emergencies). When a homeowner wishes to prune, spray, cut roots or remove a street tree a City Forester's Permit is required. This ordinance also allows for inspection and condemnation of private trees because of serious diseases or hazardous conditions.
  • Right-of-Way Maintenance Ordinance: The right-of-way generally exists along the curb of all property adjacent to a street. Exact right-of-way measurements should be contained in your deed or can be obtained by calling the City Engineer's Office. The current ordinance requires adjacent property owners to maintain city right-of-way areas in an aesthetically pleasing manner in drought tolerant plant material, grass, stone aggregate, or decorative rocks.
  • Hard Surfacing: A permit is required for installation of materials such as asphalt or concrete. Obtain permits from the City Forester's Office.
  • New Home Street Tree Ordinance: Allows for the planting of one street tree per lot along public street frontages in new subdivisions.
  • Weed Ordinance: Information concerning this ordinance may be obtained by calling the Code Enforcement Office.
  • Corner Visibility Ordinance: This ordinance requires that there be no obstruction on corner lots within a 55' triangular area. This includes any vegetation (including shrubbery) taller than 3'. For more information, call the Traffic Engineering Office at 385-5908.
  • Tree Service Licensing Ordinance: This ordinance requires licensing of any company involved in the business of pruning and removal of trees, 15' or taller.