New Haven students help plant trees by the playground behind the King Robinson Inter-District Magnet School. Thomas Breen / New Haven Independent

Two dozen eager and antsy King Robinson School first graders joined the mayor in pouring bucket after bucket of water atop a newly planted lacebark elm tree — to help grow a federally funded canopy expansion program that will see an extra 2,500 trees take root in New Haven over the next five years.

That was the scene Thursday morning by the playground behind King Robinson Inter-District Magnet School at 150 Fournier St. in Newhallville.

In the surprisingly sweltering autumn morning sun, Mayor Justin Elicker, Urban Resources Initiative (URI) Director Colleen Murphy-Dunning, New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) Supt. Madeline Negrón, and a handful of fellow city staffers and enviro nonprofit workers celebrated a new $3 million federal grant that the city and URI have been awarded.

That money comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Urban and Community Forestry Grant Program, and will pay for URI — a Yale-affiliated nonprofit that plants, trims, and maintains city trees — to plant an additional 2,500 trees across New Haven over the next five years. That will double the number of trees that the city and URI intend to plant over that time, Elicker said, given that URI already puts in the ground roughly 500 new trees a year.

Of the 500 extra trees to be planted each year for the next five years thanks to this grant, Elicker said, 350 will be planted along city streets with a focus on ​“environmental justice” neighborhoods, 75 on public school properties, and 75 in city parks.

Murphy-Dunning said that URI will be partnering with Believe in Me Empowerment Corporation and Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) in addition to its long-time partners of EMERGE, Common Ground, and Sound School to step up its tree-planting efforts to reach that 2,500-tree goal.

City Tree Warden Annie Mixsell added that this newly awarded grant from the feds will also cover the costs of putting together a new strategic plan for New Haven’s urban forest. The goal of such a plan is to enable the city to gather and analyze data about the city’s existing roughly 28,000 street trees and 2,200 acres of parkland to determine the best policy changes and management plans for New Haven’s tree canopy going forward.

Trees play such an important role in capturing carbon, providing shade, cleaning the air, and absorbing rainwater, city climate czar Steve Winter said during Thursday’s presser. ​“It’s hackneyed, but trees are the answer.”

Murphy-Dunning said that URI will plant 60 different species of trees over the next five years as it hustles towards this 2,500-new-tree goal. In addition to lacebark elms, like the one planted Thursday morning at King Robinson, URI will seek to plant trees with ​“very big crowns,” like red maples and sweetgums and white oaks, to maximize shade — so long as there aren’t power lines nearby.

While Thursday’s tree planting was part of URI’s regular fall planting of 400 trees, she said, the newly awarded federal funding will enable URI to begin planting 400 trees this spring and 600 trees the following fall — with the goal of tree-planters working six days a week, getting in the ground six trees a day.

“This is an amazing thing,” Elicker marveled. ​“Trees help suck in carbon,” reducing heat-island effects and cooling neighborhoods. They also ​“bring community members together.”

The mayor and schools superintendent and others then put those words to practice — as they came together with the purple-shirted King Robinson first graders who were getting restless sitting in the sun. The students and city officials took turns lifting and pouring a total of four buckets of water atop the newly planted lacebark elm.

Trees can be requested by New Haven residents, business owners, institutions (such as schools and libraries), and Special Service Districts by going to, calling 203 – 432-6189 or emailing

This story was first published Oct. 26, 2023 by Connecticut Public.