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Parks and Recreation

Contact Information
Parks & Recreation Department
City Services Center (CSC)
500 15th Avenue SW
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52404
Phone: 319-286-5566
Fax: 319-540-8843


Mon - Fri, 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Department Contacts
Principles of Pruning: When and Why

Principles of Pruning: Included bark

Principles of Pruning: Making a good cut

General Tree Care

Tree care is an investment in your home and environment. Here are some useful tips to help your tree perform to the best of its abilities and become a valuable asset to your landscape.

1) Cold Stress-Extreme temperatures can cause the bark of trees to crack and spread, allowing an opportunity for disease and insect infestation. It is advisable to wrap the bark of a young tree for the first few winters with one of a number of commercial products. This is mainly for thin bark trees and should only be done the first few winters. The tree will need to adapt to the temperature extremes in the long term.

2) Pruning-Winter is an ideal time to prune trees. However, don’t prune trees in the late summer/early fall, it can promote new growth that can be damaged by cold temperatures. Wait until the weather is cool enough that you are sure the tree is dormant. Trim Oak and American Elm trees only in winter to limit the spread of disease. For new trees, only prune off dead and broken limbs, then wait at least a year to perform any light, structural pruning. Once a tree matures, the timing and type of pruning is determined by the species and the needs of the property. Typically, trees only need to be pruned every 5 years.

3) Mulch- Applying a 4-6 inch layer of wood chip mulch is the single best thing you can do for your trees. It protects them from lawnmower damage, insulates the ground, increases organic matter in the soil, regulates temperature, and improves water infiltration for the roots. Leaf mulch is also beneficial. Gather all of the fallen leaves and run them over several times with a lawn mower, making sure they are cut finely. This is a good, economical way to help not only trees, but other plants as well.

4) Ground Breaks-If you have a young tree in a position to get the brunt of snow drifts or strong winds, make a wind break. This may be done by simply attaching a length of burlap between two posts.

5) Watering:  Trees need long periods of slow watering. Water Sprinklers and sudden downpours are not effective. At least one inch of rain over a long period per week is ideal. You can substitute this if there has been no significant rain for a week by applying 10-15 gallons of water with a hydration bag, or five gallon bucket. You can also leave a garden hose at the base of the tree for an hour or two on a very light trickle. Watering is good for old trees as well as new trees. You can water from the time the ground thaws out until it freezes.

6) Salt-Using salt for snow and ice removal on your property can have devastating effects on your trees. When the snow or ice melts it carries the salt into the water, which ends up on your tree roots.

7) Snow and Ice-If clinging on a young tree these can be a problem. Gently brush away excess snow, be careful, pulling ice may damage bark. Use care and only brush off loose material. Any bent limbs should straighten up in the spring. Trees that are adversely affected yearly may need to be staked or wired together each winter. Do not leave stakes or wires on throughout the year.

8) Stakes/guy wires-Most young trees don't need to remain staked. Movement is important for the tree to gain taper and strength. Guy wires and stakes should be removed after a year. Leaving them on longer can damage the tree, potentially killing it.

9) Aerate-Aerate the root zone around trees, and remove any grass growing close to the tree base. Grass takes nutrients needed by the tree.

10) Spray-Spray an anti-desiccant on smaller evergreens, it should help lessen the damage of winds and sun over the winter.

A tree is not a short term investment. If done right, that young tree will add value to your home, cut heating and cooling costs, provide food/shelter for birds or animals and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the environment.

Links for tree care and required permits: 

Right of Way Tree Pruning Permit 

Please contact the Forestry department with your concerns before applying for a permit. Most of the time, the work you would like to have performed can be done by city staff at no cost to the homeowner. However, if the issue is time sensitive, or you simply do not want to wait for city staff to address the issue, please fill out a permit so the arborist can review what you would like to do. Please not the only ISA Certified Arborists are approved to work on city trees. Please ensure the company you plan to hire has a certified arborist on staff.

Wood Cutting Permit

The city maintains a location for homeowners to cut firewood. A permit is required, but there is no cost. There is no limit on how much wood you can take and it is on a first-come first-served basis. Please notify the city of any illegal dumping at the site. It is for cutting and pick up only. Consistent, illegal dumping can result in a temporary or permanent closure of the facility.

Update March 2021: Due to a flood control project, the Van Vechten yard has been closed. It is unlikely we will be able to re-open it. The City of Cedar Rapids is currently evaluating other sites for the cutting yard and hopes to have a new site available by early summer.

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