Restore the Canopy, Plant a Tree!


The MWRD launched a program in 2016 that will aid in managing stormwater and educating communities and schools on the value of the tree canopy that has been depleted over the last century. The “Restore the Canopy, Plant a Tree” initiative empowers the residents of Cook County with an opportunity to restore our region’s tree canopy and reduce the chances of future flooding.

The MWRD is partnering with municipalities, schools, local agencies, community groups and other organizations interested in planting 18-inch oak saplings throughout the county.

The free saplings are available in individual pots or in bulk bags of 100 bare root saplings. Planting and care instructions, along with additional information regarding the benefits of trees, will be provided with each delivery.

With advanced notice, the saplings can be picked up at MWRD facilities or delivered.

The initiative can be especially useful to area schools, as the program offers teachers and students the opportunity to restore our region's depleted tree canopy through an educational experience that extends beyond the classroom. The saplings can be planted on school grounds or at students' homes as a way to educate students on how they can protect their environment and meet the MWRD's goals in stormwater management.

The tree population has been decimated in recent years by emerald ash borer infestations and extreme weather. A reported 13 million trees in the region were lost due to the emerald ash borer devastation. (In the photo: Evidence of tree damage caused by emerald ash borer)

Benefits of Trees

Not only do trees provide a beautiful green canopy for our communities, trees are a powerful and effective form of green infrastructure that reduces city heat island effects, absorbs carbon gases and produces oxygen. A medium-sized oak tree can help prevent flooding by absorbing 2,800 gallons of rainfall per year.  Trees are also vital to our environment for many other reasons; they:

  • Reduce flooding
  • Reduce air pollution
  • Improve health and well being
  • Keep neighborhoods cooler
  • Create a sense of community
  • Lower energy bills
  • Increase property value
  • Provide protection from wind
  • Buffer noise
  • Provide shade
  • Increase habitat for wildlife
  • Absorb carbon dioxide
  • Give oxygen
  • Tree Pick Up Days

    The MWRD distributes free trees every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon.beginning April 3, 2019 at the following water reclamation plants:

    • Calumet (400 E. 130th St., Chicago)

    • Egan (550 S. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg)

    • Hanover Park (1220 Sycamore Ave., Hanover Park)

    • Kirie (701 Oakton St., Des Plaines)

    • O'Brien (3500 Howard St., Skokie)

    • Stickney (6001 W. Pershing Rd., Cicero)

    Special Event: The MWRD will distribute free trees during public tours and open houses on Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 9 am to 1 p.m. at the Calumet, O’Brien and Stickney plants.

    Mapping the Canopy

    The MWRD is mapping the location and neighborhoods of where the canopy is being restored. When picking up your tree, please provide a street address so your tree can be mapped!


    Download the brochure!

    How to Participate

    To find out more about how your school, organization, neighborhood or municipality can participate in this program, please contact the MWRD Office of Public Affairs at or by calling (312) 751-6633.

    Tips on planting and caring for your tree

    • Keep your tree in a cool place and do not take it out of its container until you are able to plant it. Restore the Canopy saplings are distributed in MWRD composted biosolids, a sustainable alternative to potting mix and chemical fertilizers produced by co-composting products of the wastewater treatment process with locally available woodchips.
    • If you received a bare-root sapling (not in a container), plant your sapling within two days for best results.
    • Choose a planting location where your tree has room to grow as full grown oak trees range from 50 to 80 feet tall. Do not plant under a power line.
    • Dig a hole wide enough to let the roots spread out completely and deep enough to cover the roots. The topmost roots should be at ground level and visible.
    • Fill the hole with soil, making sure the tree is straight by pressing around the stem. Water the tree after filling the planting hole until water accumulates on the surface.
    • If you use mulch, keep it away from the trunk.
    • Keeping your tree watered is important during its first year. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. In dry weather, you should water every 7–10 days. Avoid watering so much that you see standing water. No need to water once the ground freezes.

    Additional Resources

    Center for Neighborhood Technology:

    Chicago Region Trees Initiative:

    United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service:

    University of Illinois, Extension Service:

    Regional Tree Census Study:

    The urban forest of trees that grow in our cities and suburbs needs protection and nurturing so we can harness its many benefits. But first, we need to understand it. To that end, The Morton Arboretum, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, has conducted a tree census, or urban forestry assessment, in the seven-county Chicago region.

    The results, analyzed in a report, “Urban Trees and Forests of the Chicago Region,” show that there are about 157 million trees in Cook, Du Page, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties; the tree canopy covers about 21 percent of the land area in the region, well below the national average of 27 percent; and the most common trees are European buckthorn, green ash, boxelder, black cherry and American elm.

    The results will support the development of the Regional Trees Initiative, an urban forest strategy envisioned in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's GOTO2040 plan, and ultimately help improve the health and well-being of people in the region.

    The study also showed:

    • Trees in the seven-county Chicago region currently store about 16.9 million tons of carbon.
    • These trees remove about 677,000 ton of carbon per year (absorbing 2.5 million tons of CO2).
    • These trees remove about 18,080 tons of pollution from the air each year.
    • The trees of the Chicago region reduce residential energy costs by about $44 million per year.
    • Each year, these trees provide services valued at about $51.2 billion.

    Data were collected from the 4,000-square-mile study area in 2010. Arboretum teams studied 1,400 randomly selected plots in the seven counties.  The plots included all kinds of land—residential, commercial, public, and private. They included a variety of land uses, such as open fields, forest preserves, parking lots, front lawns, and work sites.

    Depending on the terrain, the teams traveled by car, foot, and canoe to count, measure, and catalogue trees.

    The data was analyzed by the US Forest Service using a software tool called i-Tree. Download the executive summary Regional Tree Census Executive Summary

    Read the complete report.