Roots for Trees Iowa City Parks and Recreation program reopens Wednesday

The program encourages residents to plant trees. 2021 is the second year the city will facilitate the program after limited participation last year.

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Gabby Drees

Young trees soak in the sun Monday, Sept. 13, 2021 at the University of Iowa.

Meg Doster, News Reporter


Iowa City may be home to many new trees with the help of a city program beginning Wednesday.

The Iowa City Department of Parks and Recreation’s program, Roots for Trees, begins Sept. 15. The program aims to plant trees in Iowa City with help from Iowa City residents as part of the city’s Climate Action Plan.

The program will run until May 15, 2022.

Applications for residents to obtain a voucher opened on Sept. 10. These vouchers can be redeemed at a local nursery to get a tree for a reduced cost. Even though the planting season is from spring to fall, vouchers will still be available and trees will be ready to purchase during the winter months.

“The purchaser is the owner of the tree and is responsible for the care, maintenance and watering of that tree,” Iowa City’s Recreational Superintendent Brad Barker wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan.

Barker said there were 360 redeemed tree vouchers out of the 500 given when the program first ran in 2020. Last year, the city worked with Neighborhood Development Services to spread word of the program to other neighborhood associations, but not many people participated, Barker said.

The standard tree voucher is 50 percent off, which can be redeemed for a maximum of $125 off of a $250 tree. Based on income, some residents might be eligible to receive a voucher for 90 percent off.

Nineteen tree options are available for purchase, including the Black Tupelo, Hackberry, and London Plane Trees.

Barker said the main goal of the program is to increase the number of trees in Iowa City, as well as diversifying the tree population — especially since the ash tree population suffered from the invasive Emerald Ash Borer. The ash tree is not an option for residents to select.

University of Iowa Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Shamar Chin said that the Emerald Ash Borer is a “huge problem” that’s moving further to the west.

“We could always use more trees, no matter where we are,” Chin said. “We’ve removed a lot of trees to build schools and our homes. I’m always for more trees, especially with climate change. [It] helps to remove some of that carbon dioxide.”

Assurance Property Management owner Rob Bender said in most Iowa City leases, lawn maintenance and care are the responsibility of the landlords, meaning that renters who want to participate in planting a tree for the program wouldn’t be able to.

This would fall onto the shoulders of the landlords who own the property, he said.

RELATED: Iowa City plants 400 trees in 2020, looks to break planting record in 2021

Barker wrote that other landlords have participated in the Roots for Trees program in the past year, but mostly owners of duplexes and single-level condos rather than bigger housing units.

Assurance Property Management has not participated in Roots for Trees before, Bender said.

“The city dictates how many trees and of what varieties, and what we put where,” Bender said. “…It’s not so much a rental agency aspect, as it is the individual landlords. We really take our marching orders from them.”

Bender said there aren’t a lot of properties in Iowa City that can feasibly host a growing tree, but that the upkeep itself is “not very difficult.”

“For the most part, all of our landlords, that we at least work with, just want to do whatever it takes to be cost-effective, and maintain some curb appeal with the properties,” Bender said.

“So, if they would rather plant in the spring, they can still get their voucher in the fall. But if they’d rather plant in the spring, then they’re more than welcome to go to the nursery at that time,” said Barker. “There’s two that we participate in with Earl May garden center and then Iowa City Landscape and Garden Center. So, we have a partnership with both of those business owners to participate in this program.”

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