Evergreen trees, especially pine trees, contribute cooling shade, woodsy odors, wildlife habitat and handsome dark silhouettes to any landscape. To some, the winter holidays would be incomplete without pine boughs, garlands or cones. Even in the heat of summer, the scent of pine suggests forest coolness. If this is your view of trees, a surprising number of organizations and agencies agree with you and make free trees available to enhance the landscape.
At the Local Level
If you live in a town or village, start at the municipal level. Your community may handle tree-planting through its department of public works or parks or through a volunteer committee. In small communities, tree-planting may require a donation; this depends on the community's source of trees.
At the city level, New York, for example, has a Million Trees campaign partnered by municipal agencies and volunteers. In Houston, tree-planting is carried out by the nonprofit Trees for Houston. Most village, town, city and county programs are likely to offer pine trees among their offerings of evergreen and deciduous trees.
In a small-town or rural area, county-level government or even the state may provide and regulate tree-planting. In the absence of clear guidelines, try the departments of parks, recreation, transportation, public works, conservation, environment and, even, water, to determine possible sources of free trees. At the county level, an excellent source of information is your County Extension Agent.
At the State Level
Try your state fish and wildlife, forestry and natural resources as sources of free pine trees. Contact your state universities and colleges to determine what tree-planting programs may be active in your area. Botany programs, arboreteums and botanical gardens sometimes organize giveaways or home-trials of plants or trees. In New Jersey, for example, the state has established the New Jersey Tree Foundation, which conducts free-tree programs centered around Earth Day and Arbor Day.
A National Resource
The National Arbor Day Foundation leads tree-planting programs throughout the country. For a small annual donation, members can choose 10 free trees, suitable to grow in their area, and pay a flat shipping fee. Several varieties of pine trees are included in the list of choices. The Foundation administers Tree City USA and Tree Campus USA, which provide trees for landscaping in public areas.
Trees in Public Spaces
One way to plant a pine tree is to order a "street tree" from your municipality. In the city of Seattle, for example, street trees can be ordered free of charge from the department of transportation. Planted on a median or parking space, the tree can enhance your shade or the look of your property while remaining the city's property. The municipality is responsible for planting, watering and pruning.
Free or Near-free
Like the Arbor Day Foundation, a commercial venture called Free Trees and Plants.Com, asks for a shipping fee in exchange for free trees. The aim of Free Trees and Plants is to provide employment to disabled employees of sheltered workshops while benefiting from commercial nursery surpluses. A limited number of widely-available trees and perennials are offered, and exact filling of orders may be affected by surpluses available. Two varieties of pine tree are listed for ordering, and the shipping fee pays for a pair of trees.
Contact nature centers, horticultural groups, native plant organizations and garden clubs in your state. All are potential sources of free trees, good advice about the best varieties for your planting situation and referrals to other organizations that may be giving away trees.