British Columbia

Vancouver tree sale wildly popular but not for apartment dwellers

Each spring, the Vancouver Park Board holds a tree sale, selling varieties like Prairie Torch Buckeyes, Showy Mountain Ashes, and Purple Lily Magnolias, for $10 a piece.

Park officials encourage green balconies but don't sell smaller trees

Trees, shrubs and plants on a balcony in Vancouver's West End. The Vancouver Park Board encourages apartment dwellers to green their balconies to help the environment (Rhianna Schmunk)

Each spring, the Vancouver Park Board holds a tree sale, selling varieties like Prairie Torch Buckeyes, Showy Mountain Ashes, and Purple Lily Magnolias, for $10 a piece.

It's a popular sale, aimed at encouraging residents to plant trees on their private properties. Often, the trees sell out.

"People are really keen to get their trees," said Dana McDonald, the park board's environmental stewardship coordinator. There's also a civic purpose to the sale. The park board wants to plant 150,000 trees by 2020 to increase Vancouver's canopy cover — the area covered by tree leaf canopies — up from 18 per cent to 22 per cent.

That's what it was in 1995 before nearly 24,000 trees were removed due to development.

$10 trees for sale by the Vancouver Park Board to help increase the city's tree coverage. (Vancouver Park Board)

Officials say the newly planted trees will help clean Vancouver's air, mitigate climate change, retain rain water, provide habitat for wildlife, and generally make Vancouver a nicer and happier place to live.

The park board uses the tree sale to encourage home owners to plant the trees in their yards because there is a finite amount of public space to plant trees.

Since 2010, 82,040 trees have been planted in Vancouver. This year the park board sale will offer 26 different varieties.

Trees for balconies?

But what if you live in an apartment with just a balcony or patio for planting?

In previous years, the board sold smaller trees aimed specifically at apartment dwellers. Those aren't available this year, but the park board plans to offer $20 rebates to people who buy smaller trees for their balconies at retail outlets.

Officials say the trees sold at the park board sale aren't suitable to be grown on a patio or balcony pot because they get too big.

That's a missed opportunity, said Egan Davis, the chief instructor, at UBC's Botanical Garden horticulture training program. Davis said smaller, balcony trees also provide benefits to the environment. They attract small birds like chickadees, clean the air and provide psychological benefits for residents.

Many residents in Vancouver use their balcony space to grow plants, shrubs and even trees. Horticulturalists say this can help the city achieve its environmental goals. (Meghan McMenamie)

According to 2011 Canadian census data, 60 per cent of Vancouver's housing is made up of apartment buildings, which makes for a lot of balconies, and a lot of potential space for plants in pots.

"We do recognize that every tree is part of the urban forest so any contribution to that through adopting a tree ... certainly counts," added McDonald.

Egan Davis with UBC's Botanical Gardens teaches budding horticulturalists how to grow plants and trees in small places that house many people in cities like Vancouver. (Rhianna Schmunk/CBC)

McDonald said the smaller trees aren't available at this year's sale mainly because the park board is focused on large specimens that can really help Vancouver reach its canopy goals.

"We're not focusing on getting trees onto balconies," McDonald said. "We're putting an emphasis on having trees that can be placed in the ground so that they can have a long-term contribution to the urban forest canopy."

Tree rebate program

Still, in May the the board hopes to roll out a new rebate program that will give $25 back to residents who buy a $50 tree at a nursery or garden centre.

McDonald, who manages the park board's tree sale, said only 700 of the 3,000 trees are still available, with the sale ending this weekend.

Not all trees need to be planted in the ground to thrive. (Jennifer Vinopal/Twitter)


  • An earlier version of this story said the tree sale was a City of Vancouver program. It is, in fact, a Vancouver Park Board program.
    Apr 24, 2017 12:11 PM PT