Virginia: Fostering Tree Stewards

a picture of Tree Steward volunteers planting a tree
Roanoke Tree Stewards Planting Trees. Photo Credit: Roanoke Tree Stewards

Planting trees in urban landscapes involves more than one might expect. In addition to thoughtful preparation that includes selecting the right tree species and location prior to planting, the maintenance of trees after they are planted is critical to survival. Truly, a long-term commitment is required to plant healthy, durable trees. The Virginia Tree Stewards are several groups of volunteers across Virginia who share this commitment. Through proper tree planting and maintenance, outreach and public education, Virginia Tree Stewards serve as an example of how volunteers can help increase tree canopy in local communities.

Mortality of urban trees due to poor maintenance can limit the success of tree canopy initiatives. The environment places a number of stressors on newly planted trees. These stressors include invasive species and pests, poor soil quality, over mulching, soil erosion, construction, pollution, and physical damage, among others. Simple tree care practices such as pruning, watering, mulching, and monitoring for pests and diseases can go a long way in improving tree survival. The maintenance of planted trees, however, is often hindered by limited funding at the local level. Moreover, in some cases common standards on follow-up tree care are not developed, or if developed standards may not be used.

The Virginia Tree Stewards model, in contrast to other tree planting initiatives, works because efforts are completely volunteer-led and participants undergo extensive training in tree planting and care practices. Virginia Tree Stewards’ mission is to promote healthy urban forests in Virginia. Tree Stewards commit to return a specific number of volunteer hours on projects that meet community needs. Volunteer activities may be focused on public education, direct care of trees, or simply being a voice for trees in local jurisdictions. Today there are 12 Tree Stewards groups found in many regions of the Commonwealth. Each of the groups is self-governed with three being part of the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Program.

a picture of two people measuring a tree
Alexandria Tree Stewards Caring for a Tree. Photo Credit: Alexandria Tree Stewards

All Virginia Tree Stewards go through training which is fundamental to their success. Training includes classroom studies with additional hands-on field learning led by professional horticulturalists and arborists.  Trees Virginia, Virginia’s Urban Forest Council which coordinates the Tree Steward groups, provides a Training Manual for Virginia Tree Stewards to use. This manual includes units covering the basic science of trees, threats to trees, soils and water management, tree selection, tree planting, and tree care.

With the skills and knowledge acquired from training, Tree Stewards become the “boots on the ground and eyes on the street” for Virginia’s trees. In addition to planting trees, Tree Stewards may do maintenance by pruning, watering, mulching, and other practices. Some Tree Stewards also become active in their local PTA groups, churches, and Home Owner Associations to make sure that trees are cared for regularly.

Trained Tree Steward volunteers are able to do ample tree maintenance, which is essential to the overall health of urban forests in Virginia. Altogether, the efforts of approximately 500 Tree Stewards across the Commonwealth ensure that their communities benefit from increased tree canopy. Their efforts also contribute to a cleaner and healthier Chesapeake Bay, as many of the trees in Virginia naturally filter air and water pollutants which impair the Bay’s water quality.

Furthermore, Tree Stewards engage in additional services including outreach and public education. As passionate, positive forces for change in their communities, Tree Stewards are mobilized citizen volunteers with the knowledge and skills needed to enhance the health of their local watersheds.


a picture of Tree Stewards showing children a poster with information about trees on it
Arlington Tree Stewards Engaged in Public Education. Photo Credit: Arlington Tree Stewards

Related Resources

Pennsylvania Tree Tenders
Baltimore TreeKeepers
DC Volunteers/Citizen Foresters (Casey Trees)


Homepage Slider Photo courtesy of Virginia Tree Stewards

Story Written by Tuana Phillips (Chesapeake Research Consortium)