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Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

Oak Tree Saplings
Each Wednesday at its water reclamation plants, the MWRD gives away free oak tree saplings.


WHO: The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) 

WHAT: The MWRD will provide free potted saplings every Wednesday through its Restore the Canopy (RTC) plant a tree program. 

WHERE: Visit MWRD water reclamation plants (WRPs) at the following locations: 

Calumet Water Reclamation Plant, 400 E. 130th St., Chicago 
O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant, 3500 Howard Street, Skokie 
Stickney Water Reclamation Plant, 6001 W. Pershing Rd., Cicero 
Egan Water Reclamation Plant, 550 South Meacham Rd, Schaumburg 
Hanover Park Water Reclamation Plant, 1220 Sycamore Ave., Hanover Park 
Kirie Water Reclamation Plant, 701 West Oakton St., Des Plaines 

WHEN: Every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon through October. 

The first week of April’s cold temperatures, snow and rain may have kept most gardeners and landscapers indoors, but the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) assures that spring-like conditions are in store for an ideal time to plant a tree to collect that stormwater.

This year the MWRD will be distributing free red oaks, bur oaks, pin oaks, swamp white oaks and black oak tree saplings as part of its popular “Restore the Canopy, Plant a Tree” program. Since 2016, the MWRD has distributed more than 100,000 free tree saplings to empower residents of Cook County with an opportunity to restore the region’s depleted tree canopy and implement a form of green infrastructure to help manage stormwater. 

“By planting more trees, we can restore our region’s canopy and introduce a variety of benefits to our communities, including more stormwater capture to protect area water quality and mitigate flooding,” said MWRD President Kari K. Steele. “Please stop by our water reclamation plants on Wednesday mornings to pick up a free sapling.” 

The tree population in the region has been decimated in recent years by emerald ash borer infestations and extreme weather. The MWRD purchases the bare root saplings through the state’s tree nursery downstate and then Maintenance and Operations staff pot about 10,000 saplings each year and water and nurture them.

In addition to distributing trees at area Arbor Day and Earth Day events throughout the month, the MWRD will be distributing the saplings at popular events, including upcoming open houses at its O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant on May 4 and Stickney Water Reclamation Plant on May 11. Both events will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The saplings might be small now, but with sufficient care and a little watering and patience, oak trees can grow up to 50 to 80 feet tall. Depending on root growth, the saplings can stay in the pot for months before planting in a larger pot or in the ground with moderate watering each week to keep soil moist but not soggy. The MWRD encourages tree keepers to avoid power lines when planting. 

“Our Restore the Canopy program reminds us of the importance of protecting our tree population and the many benefits trees provide,” said MWRD Commissioner Yumeka Brown. “Having a canopy in place for future generations will shelter us when storms arrive.”

In addition to managing stormwater, trees are vital to our environment for many reasons. They have the potential to reduce air pollution, improve health and well-being, keep homes and neighborhoods cooler; create a sense of community; lower energy bills; increase property value; provide protection from wind; buffer noise; provide shade; increase habitat for wildlife; absorb carbon dioxide; and give oxygen.  

Learn more or email For orders of 50 or more saplings, complete this form. Deliveries are available only within Cook County but not to individual homes. 

How do I plant and care for the saplings?

  • Planting and care instructions, along with additional information regarding the benefits of trees, will be provided through a MWRD-produced brochure. This information can also be found at
  • Bare-root saplings must be potted within a couple of days to have the best chance of growth. Potted saplings can survive for a few months as long as they are kept in a cool, moist environment.
  • The best time to plant the saplings is in the spring and fall. 
  • Plant your tree where it will receive full to partial sunlight and in a location where it has room to grow; full grown oak trees range from 50 to 80 feet tall. 
  • Do not plant under a power line or too close to any structures.
  • Dig a hole wide enough to let the roots spread out completely and deep enough to cover the roots. The topmost roots should be at ground level and visible.
  • Fill the hole with soil, making sure the tree is straight by pressing around the stem.
  • Water the tree after filling the planting hole until water accumulates on the surface.
  • If you use mulch, keep it away from the trunk.
  • Keeping your tree watered is important during its first year. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. In dry weather, you should water every 7–10 days. Avoid watering so much that you see standing water. There is no need to water once the ground freezes.
  • Remember to use good gardening hygiene. 


Press Release

Established in 1889, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) is an award-winning, special purpose government agency responsible for wastewater treatment and stormwater management in Cook County, Illinois.


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