Project CommuniTree

(St. Louis, MO)- Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, through Project CommuniTree, operates a community-assisted nursery which, at peak capacity, cares for approximately 14,000 seedlings. It also annually distributes between 4,000 and 5,000 free trees to individuals and groups for planting on public or nonprofit properties in the region.

Category: Program Model, Community-assisted Nursery

The nursery receives 6,500 seedlings each year from the Missouri Department of Conservation. Forest ReLeaf staff and volunteers plant the seedlings in 3-gallon containers and care for them until they are three-to-six feet tall and are ready to be harvested and distributed to community groups. Seedlings vary in the length of time they stay at the nursery depending on the species.
Follow-up surveys by Forest ReLeaf indicate a survival rate of between 85 and 90 percent for trees that have been distributed by the nursery. This is significantly higher than the survival rates of seedlings that were distributed directly to community groups under previous federal programs.
Established in 1993, Forest ReLeaf of Missouri’s mission is “to provide trees for public and not-for-profit plantings and present educational programs to promote stewardship of the trees and forests in Missouri and other communities in the region.”
In addition to its flagship program, Project CommuniTree, Forest ReLeaf offers a number of other tree planting and education programs, including:
* Priority ReLeaf, which raises corporate and foundation donations for high-need planting projects in underserved communities and schools
* Project ReLeaf, which works with local and out-of-state growers to provide reduced-cost, larger-caliper trees to public agencies and nonprofit groups and
* TreeKeepers, which teaches volunteers tree identification, care, and maintenance and provides opportunities to become involved in community projects.
Since its inception, Forest ReLeaf, which has a staff of three, has distributed nearly 75,000 trees.
Project CommuniTree
Project CommuniTree was established on National Arbor Day in 1996 with a $30,000 seed grant from the National Tree Trust and support from the St. Louis Community Foundation, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps).
Each year the Missouri Department of Conservation provides Forest ReLeaf with approximately 6,500 seedlings. The 10 to 12 different species are predominately, but not exclusively, native. At the nursery, Forest ReLeaf staff and volunteers plant the seedlings in three-gallon containers and care for the trees, usually for several years, before they are harvested and distributed.
Each spring and fall, Forest ReLeaf distributes thousands of young trees from Project CommuniTree for planting on public or nonprofit properties in Missouri and throughout the region at no cost.
Seedling care
At its peak, this community-assisted nursery holds 14,000 seedlings. Initial potting and subsequent care of these trees are supervised by Forest ReLeaf’s forestry programs manager, who devotes approximately one-half of his time to this program.
The nursery has about 10 volunteers who work each Wednesday from 8 a.m. to noon. These workers help with routine maintenance and care of the seedlings. Most of these volunteers come through the local Master Gardner program or Forest ReLeaf’s TreeKeepers program and have already received training in tree planting and care.
In addition, the nursery typically hosts about 10 “short burst” projects each year where volunteers assist with potting, weeding, mulching, tagging and harvesting the seedlings. Volunteers for these projects come from a wide variety of community groups including area colleges and universities, high schools and corporations.
In addition, Forest ReLeaf is a “certified volunteer program” of the local United Way and receives many volunteer referrals through this source.
About 400 volunteers work in the “short burst” projects each year.
Application process for receiving cultivated trees
Once the seedlings are between three-to-six feet tall, they are harvested for distribution. Typically 4,000 to 5,000 trees are considered ready for out-planting each year.
Individuals or organizations can apply for the trees, which are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis each spring and fall. The trees must be planted on public or not-for-profit property such as parks, school grounds, rights-of-way, or greenways. Recipients are asked to care for them for at least three years after planting.
Recipients must have written permission to plant from the property owner or governing agency and pick up the trees at the nursery.
The application, which is available on Forest ReLeaf’s website (, includes a checklist for tree planting and maintenance, including requests for information on who will pick up the trees, dig holes and plant. It also includes a schedule for watering, mulching, staking, fertilizing, pruning and checking for disease.
Applications are accepted beginning in January for spring planting and in August for fall plantings.
Project CommuniTree typically provides trees for between 50 and 80 planting projects each spring and fall. Typical applicants are cities and towns, schools, nonprofit organizations, churches, youth groups and neighborhood associations.
Due to a steady increase in the number of applications, Forest ReLeaf is currently in the process of developing additional criteria for evaluating and approving applications. Up until now, Forest ReLeaf has been able to approve all applications that met eligibility requirements.
Technical assistance on tree care and planting
Forest ReLeaf’s forestry programs manager provides advice and technical assistance to applicants, including information on which species are most appropriate in certain environments. Applicants are given information on how to make sure that tree planting is compatible with above-ground and underground utilities. In addition, all applicants are given written information on tree planting and care.
Budget and Staffing
The budget for Project CommuniTree is approximately $70,000. Funding is provided by AmerenUE, the Employees Community Fund of Boeing St. Louis, the Missouri Department of Conservation, St. Louis County Parks, The Trio Foundation of St. Louis, Missouri-American Water Co. and individual donors.
Forest ReLeaf has one staff member who spends approximately one-half of his time on Project CommuniTree. The effort relies on volunteers to assist with potting, weeding, fertilizing, pruning, mulching, tagging and harvesting trees for community distribution.
Marketing and volunteer recruitment
Project CommuniTree has an extensive network of partners that assist in marketing the program. Partners include the local and state forestry councils, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the local utility, parks and municipalities, community and neighborhood organizations, and local businesses.
Over the years, Forest ReLeaf has developed a database of community contacts and much of its marketing effort is done electronically through e-mail and its website.
Since the program is so established with the various volunteer groups, Forest ReLeaf has a steady stream of help and does not need to do intensive volunteer recruitment.
Volunteer management
Forest ReLeaf takes the business of volunteer management seriously, which is one of the main reasons it is able to recruit and maintain an effective volunteer workforce.
An educational component is incorporated in the workdays so that volunteers understand the reasons behind their tasks. Project CommuniTree limits the number of volunteers per project to 30 so that projects can be run most efficiently and volunteers receive adequate attention and supervision.
Future plans
In June 2007, the Project CommuniTree nursery relocated to a 4.3 acre site and plans are underway to expand its role to become an education and demonstration site for native and “utility-friendly” trees, site selection, tree planting and care. Future plans at the site, now named CommuniTree Gardens, include a volunteer training and public education center and a community arboretum
Since the first distribution in fall 1998, Forest ReLeaf has donated more than 40,000 trees to local groups through Project CommuniTree.
Each year approximately 14,000 seedlings are under cultivation at the nursery and between 4,000 and 5,000 trees are harvested and distributed annually.
In 2006, nearly 500 individuals volunteered more than 1,700 hours to maintain the nursery, potting 6,300 new seedlings and harvesting 8,150 trees for out-planting. The number of seedlings harvested in 2006 is unusually high because of preparations for the move to a new site in 2007.
Each year Forest ReLeaf checks on the health of approximately 50 percent of the trees planted the previous year. The survival rate for these trees has been between 85 and 90 percent.
1. Establishing and nurturing partnerships with local and state agencies, parks and municipalities, businesses and community groups is key to the success of a community-assisted nursery and an effective not-for-profit tree organization. Forest ReLeaf has an extensive network of partners that provide technical assistance, in-kind services and goods, and volunteer labor, as well as financial support.
2. It is important that professional staff with a forestry background oversees management of the nursery to ensure the best survival rates for the seedlings.
3. Consistently offer high-quality experiences to your volunteers. This includes paying attention to the 4 R’s of volunteer management: recruitment, recognition, retention and refreshments. Provide an educational component to every work experience that helps volunteers understand the importance of their tasks. Vary tasks according to ability. Limit the number of volunteers to what you can effectively manage at each event.
4. Pay attention to the science of volunteer management as well as the art. There are numerous resources that nonprofits can access that will help them keep up-to-date on important and growing areas in volunteer management, including legal issues on liability and harassment. Forest ReLeaf uses the volunteer certification process at the local United Way to keep current on trends and best practices in volunteer management.
5. Diversify your funding sources and remember to ask for technical assistance and other types of in-kind services as well as financial support.
Contact information:
Nancy von Brecht, Executive Director
Forest ReLeaf of Missouri
4207 Lindell, Suite 301
St. Louis, MO 63108
Phone: 314-533-5323, x12
Fax: 314-533-0016
(c) 2007 Alliance for Community Trees