Frogtown Green working to plant trees in St. Paul

South facing, with zero tree canopy, homeowner Sonal Redd says her Frogtown, St. Paul, backyard is unbearable in the summer. 

"The only place we can use in the summer is that little area between the two houses," Redd said.

She’s thankful for a couple of trees in her front and backyard, planted two years ago, courtesy of a long-standing group in her neighborhood, Frogtown Green. 

"They told us exactly what to do," says Redd. Now she’s anxious for the trees to grow. "Yeah, like 20 years from now! It’s OK, it's beautiful. It’s thriving. It was a really hot summer, and I was worried about it, now it’s doing good."

Back in 2009, Patricia Ohmans and fellow neighbors who formed Frogtown Green, were told by the City of St. Paul they have the lowest percentage of tree canopy in the city, other than downtown. They got to work planting trees. Beyond the city-maintained boulevard trees, volunteers plant trees in backyards and front yards. In a neighborhood filled with 65% rental properties and a 25% annual turnover rate, it’s been challenging to get property owners and tenants to agree to take on new trees. 

"We have convinced a lot of landlords to plant trees on their properties because they recognize there is a 10% increase in property value with mature trees, their tenants are likely to stay longer," says Ohmans. "I’m not just making this up, this is documented research."

As of Oct. 6, 2023, volunteers have planted 625 trees. Over the weekend, Oct. 7-8, they’ve started the process of planting 600 more trees. Together they are surpassing the more than 1,000 tree milestone, thanks in large part to the Minnesota DNR, forestry service, City of St. Paul, and various contributors. Plus, a federal grant means another 1,000 trees will be planted in Frogtown, Summit-University, and St. Paul neighbors with the lowest tree coverage over the next five years.

"We do kinda mix of fruit trees and big shade trees," says director of operations Chris Stevens. 

"It sounds ridiculous, but I know a lot of the trees we’ve planted," says Ohmans. "I can see them, and they do make a difference."

This is just one of many similar efforts branching out from coast to coast. The USDA recently announced an investment of $1 billion for nearly 400 projects to expand access to trees and green spaces nationwide. That means projects like Frogtown Green have a stronger chance to grow. 

"I applaud any type of awareness or funding that helps to plant trees," says Ohmans.

Redd agrees. "We gotta green up the city for sure."