Surrey Releaf Planting programs help revive the urban forest

The program offered this spring seeks to increase biodiversity and reconnect residents with local parks

Until May 7, the City of Surrey is hosting their Releaf Tree Planting program to the public. (Keet Kailey)

The City of Surrey is offering residents a way to increase biodiversity and help the local environment through their Releaf Tree Planting program this spring. 

From April 6 to May 7, the public is invited to plant a tree or shrub in one of Surrey’s many parks. The city will provide the tools and training necessary for the planting, and participants can enjoy a family friendly self-guided activity in the park after the planting is done.

“We’ve been doing community plantings since the late 1990s,” says Rob Landucci, urban forestry manager at the City of Surrey. 

Landucci says many of these events involve either converting “areas of mowed grass,” which he says are “fairly low” in biodiversity, into “new, natural areas” or simply planting more park trees on them. He says this results in the creation of new habitat and food sources for insects, birds, and mammals. 

“They support the growth of the urban forest, which provides a number of different ecosystem services and other health and environmental benefits to the community. As well, they do a good job of connecting the community and our residents to our parkland, and specifically our urban forest.”

According to Landucci, these plantings usually put heavy emphasis on native plants. For trees, that’s usually red alders, Western red cedars, Douglas firs, big leaf maples, Sitka spruce, and grand firs. 

For shrubs, he says the focus is typically on woodier shrubs including salmonberries, thimbleberries, hardhack, red elderberries, Nootka roses, and red-osier dogwoods, since they’re “a little more persistent” and see more success through the transplanting process. He says sword ferns are also occasionally planted, depending on the site. 

Once the plants are installed, Landucci says the city has maintenance programs to ensure the trees and shrubs are watered for up to five years after installation. He says there are also mulching programs for natural area plantings to “help retain moisture and reduce weed competition,” and that the city will also remove any invasive plants that were growing prior to planting and conduct further removal as needed. 

When planning these events, one of the main goals is to have plantings in all of Surrey’s communities. His hope is that these events “strengthen [residents’] connection to our park system,” Landucci says. 

“They’ll learn about the importance of not only caring for our parks, but also caring for our urban forests and our native, natural area park lands.”

When it comes to doing our own tree plantings, Landucci says the key to success is “site selection and site preparation.”

For park trees, he says the city likes to ensure there is “sufficient soil volume” for regrowth and moisture retention. For natural area plantings, specifically areas of “passive grass,” he says the city will often “rough it up a little” and cultivate the area, adding more trees and biodiversity.

“This not only makes it easier for the residents to install the plants, but it provides more microclimates for the plants to be successful.”