Trees + Shrubs

A group of 5 people dig in dirt at a school yard and plant juvenile trees.

Tree planting at Morrill Math & Science Elementary School


As rainwater hits trees and shrubs, their leaves, stems and branches hold water that later evaporates back into the air. Rain that drips off leaf surfaces or flows along the branches and trunk is then absorbed by soil and roots, along with water from surrounding surfaces that finds its way to the trees. Roots can store significant amounts of water and they make pathways for excess water to move into the ground easily.

Space to Grow schoolyards are designed with green infrastructure to capture rain water where it falls. Trees and shrubs play an essential role by managing rainfall naturally. They intercept excess water by storing it in their canopy and absorbing rainwater at their roots. The roots also filter out pollutants—like chemicals, oil and pet waste—from streets and sidewalks, which helps reduce the amount of polluted water entering the sewer system and waterways.

You’ll note many new trees and shrubs in your Space to Grow schoolyard. Not only are they helping to manage water, trees and shrubs support healthy communities. They are known to reduce stress and anxiety in individuals as well as provide shade, improve air quality and provide a natural habitat for birds and insects.

Quick Facts

  • The Arbor Day Foundation reported that one mature deciduous tree can intercept 500 to 700 gallons of rainwater annually, and one mature evergreen tree can intercept more than 4,000 gallons annually.
  • Check out these top 22 benefits of trees by to learn more about why we need to plant and care about trees!

Do It Yourself

Planting trees and shrubs on your property or on your parkway is a natural, beautiful and easy way to help manage stormwater and support the urban forest around the city. Ready to “spruce” up your yard or parkway? The University of Illinois Extension has provided step by step instructions on how to plant a tree as well as information on the best shrubs to plant. The Morton Arboretum also has resources to help you select trees for your home, including photos of trees and information about how much space the tree needs to grow and what type of light and moisture conditions are best for each species.

Don’t forget to care for your trees and shrubs once they are planted. Newly planted trees or shrubs require more frequent watering than established trees and shrubs. They should be watered daily for the first two weeks after planting and then every two to three days for the next three months. After that, water weekly until the roots are well established.

A tree in a residential backyard.


  • The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago provides free oak saplings from April to October for residents to plant at their homes. Check out their Restore the Canopy program for locations and how to pick up your free trees!
  • Openlands offers a TreePlanters Grant for residents to plant trees in their community parkways and public spaces. Gather up your neighbors to plant and care for some new trees in your community.

Local Partners

  • The University of Illinois Extension has a tree resource guide and offers residents of Cook County the opportunity to shape their private landscapes in a conservation-minded way. They provide guidance through volunteer master gardeners and a variety of educational programming and horticulture resources.
  • The Morton Arboretum has an extensive set of resources about trees and shrubs that includes a plant clinic, help with pests and a Northern Illinois tree selector.

Click here to download a PDF of this page in Spanish and English

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