LARGO – A new program from the city of Largo Parks Division is tackling what officials have identified as a problem: there aren’t enough trees in the city.
A recent study found that Largo has about 27 percent canopy tree coverage within city limits, which is low, said Parks Superintendent Greg Brown. He’d like to see the percentage closer to 35 percent.
“The trees help aesthetically and (provide) oxygen and shade and energy and all wonderful assets,” he said.
The city owns about one fourth of the land in Largo, and frequently plants new trees, paid from a fund created for that purpose. But that still leaves a large percentage in private hands.
The CommuniTree Tree Giveaway is the city’s answer to that problem.
“We can’t go plant the tree on private land. But we can give (residents) a tree, and they can plant it,” explained Taylor Kahns, Largo Park’s urban forest intern.
The CommuniTree program has been Kahns’ signature project for his internship, part of his master’s degree in public administration at the University of South Florida. The key difference in this program compared to Largo’s tree giveaway on Arbor Day is the residency requirement. In order to get a tree, recipients must live in a single-family home within the city of Largo. It’s been Kahns’ task to set up the registration for the program, accessed through the city’s website, www.LargoParks.com.
The website also will show participants the types of tree they can request: bald cypress, crape myrtle – featuring either white- or lavender-colored flowers, southern live oak, southern magnolia, red maple and winged elm.
The tree options are specific, Kahns said.
“They’re ones we’re comfortable with in an urban environment, that can survive in a yard next to a driveway, next to a sidewalk, next to a street and not cause a lot of sidewalk damage and not have to take a great deal of care,” he said.
All will be purchased from Florida nurseries to ensure they can tolerate Florida’s extreme weather. Of the options, all but the crape myrtle is a canopy tree, aligned with the city’s objective to increase the canopy.
The trees, one per household, will come in 7-gallon containers.
“In the end, they will be 8 feet tall or so,” Brown said.
People tend to prefer magnolias. When the city gives away trees at Arbor Day, officials usually purchase half magnolias and half everything else.
“People like the big, deep green magnolia leaf and the big flower that’s on the picture,” he said. “We give every one of those away every year.”
The new program won’t replace the Arbor Day giveaway, which usually features about 300 smaller, less mature trees. The CommuniTree program is a separate budget. Brown said he put aside $10,000 for the program, and hopes to purchase about 360 trees.
So far, residents have registered for about half of that number. Registration will stay open until the funds have been allocated, but the exact number depends on what residents decide they want.
“Some trees are cheaper than others,” Brown said.
No tax dollars make up the city’s tree fund. Developers pay into the fund when they remove trees and don’t replace them with trees of similar size. They pay more depending on the size of the tree. The money within the fund can only be used to purchase trees.
The trees will be distributed on Friday, Jan. 11, starting at 9 a.m., with a second chance on Saturday for those who registered to claim their trees, as well as those on a possible waiting list. Registered participants will have to show a photo ID, such as a driver’s license, to pick up their new tree.
Kahns said the program is a win-win situation for both the city and its residents.
“It’s the initial cost of the tree that comes out of the tree fund, and everything else is maintained by the private resident at their own expense, at their own choice,” he said. “They get a tree. They get to beautify their property. They get to increase their property value, and the city gets the benefit a few years later when that tree really starts to grow.”
Officials aren’t sure how the new program will affect the overall canopy percentage of the city. The Parks Division will do a follow-up survey in about a year to see what’s survived and become part of Largo’s tree cover, Brown said.
To register for a tree and for more information, visit LargoParks.com or call 586-7415.