A colorful leaf in West Concord. Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

Concord’s free tree program helps beautify — and combat climate change

April 17, 2024

Whoever plants a tree, plants hope, the saying goes.  

To help create and preserve a healthy tree canopy, long a priority in Concord, the town provides suitable trees free to residents each year.  

Under the seasonal program, residents can add their names to a tree request list. The town does not charge for the trees and asks only that property owners water and maintain them.  

Adding even more greenery to the town, the Concord250 Permanent Memorial Subcommittee plans to plant 250 trees to commemorate the anniversary of the start of the American Revolution.  

The town’s Setback Tree Planting Program began around 20 years ago when it started adding trees to the 20-foot setback area, which begins at the edge of the right-of-way along each street. Concord Public Works plants about 100 trees in front yards each year.  

After a property owner contacts CPW looking for a tree, Tree Warden Eric Shaw ensures the site is suitable and in the setback area. He must check for overhead wires, underground utilities, ledge, or any other issues affecting planting. Then, the homeowner gets a choice of the best tree for the site.  

“We balance what people want us to plant,” said Shaw, who is also CPW’s assistant superintendent of highway and grounds.  

To keep things simple, Shaw said, CPW usually offers six to nine distinct types of trees from the wide variety that can grow in Concord each spring and fall planting season.  


Setting each tree runs between $700 and $800 if CPW does the work. When time is short, they might call in a contractor, raising the per-tree cost to $1,200 to $1,400. 

Shaw said more work has been done in-house in recent years, meaning more trees for the money.  

Each year, funding for the setback program is voted as a capital expense by Town Meeting.  

The cost of trees has risen significantly over the last few years and “the ask goes up each year,” said Shaw. It’s now $50,000 annually. He said other funds come from grants, money from the tree preservation bylaw under the Planning and Land Use office, and the Community Protection Committee.  

A Concord magnolia in bloom. Photo by Laurie O’Neill

The approximately 23,762 trees in Concord sequester carbon dioxide, mitigate stormwater, and remove air pollution, a benefit of over $1.3 million over the past 20 years, according to data from Davey Resource Group, which conducted a tree inventory and created a management plan in 2017. Trees also can lower wind speed year-round and decrease temperatures in summer.  

Shaw said there would likely be some overlap between the Concord250 tree planting and the ongoing setback program.  

The purposeful planting of trees began in Concord in the early 1830s, after the removal of the milldam along with nearby ramshackle businesses. The Concord Ornamental Tree Society planted stately trees along the streets and the central square, local author Robert Gross wrote in his book, “The Transcendentalists and Their World.”     

Call Concord Public Works at (978) 318-3220 to learn more about its free tree program and visit its website’s Tree Planting Guide for detailed information on planting and maintaining trees and which are most suitable for Concord’s climate.   

— Anne O’Connor