Ruben Lassenter, 12, climbs his first oak tree at Audubon Park in New Orleans, Thursday, June 28, 2018. The Audubon Commission approved the new Audubon Park Master Plan to maintain the current landscape and sustainability, but also to improve lighting and traffic flow.

Residents of Mid-City, Broadmoor, Algiers Point, Climana (between Freret and Claiborne near Louisiana) and potentially Gentilly and New Orleans East can now apply with Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL) to receive up to two free trees to plant on public land this November. 

The trees, which include native species such as nuttall oak, Drummond red maple, live oak, bald cypress and magnolia, are part of SOUL's campaign to reforest the city. Founder and executive director Susannah Burley says New Orleans lost a significant amount of tree coverage during Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods.

"We have a million trees to plant in New Orleans if we're going to have an urban forest equivalent to Atlanta," Burley says. SOUL's goal is to replenish those trees, in part to help assist with the city's water management.

Burley says live oak trees can absorb up to 1,000 gallons of water per day. 

SOUL deploys volunteer neighborhood block captains to persuade residents to plant in common spaces, such as the right of way between the sidewalk and the street, and identify areas where trees can be strategically planted in clusters to maximize their environmental benefits. One recent project included the planting of a group of 12-15 trees near Jefferson Davis Parkway in Mid-City.

"By doing a cluster, each of those trees is going to drink up a lot of water. ... We're not going to make an impact if you have one tree on the block," Burley says. (Here's a map to see where SOUL's trees currently are being planted.)

People who wish to plant a tree must fill out a free permit and return it to their block captain. SOUL assesses the site where the tree will be planted and returns with volunteers and the tree during the planting season, which runs from November to March. 

That time, Burley says, is the safest time to plant trees, so they don't experience shock from hot summer weather and can establish their root systems. 

Residents who are interested in becoming block captains also can attend a training on July 18 at 6 p.m. That training, located at 300 N. Broad St. (in the Whole Foods Market building) provides insight on which trees work well in different kinds of locations. There's also a four-day free seminar in August on reforestation issues and their relevance to New Orleans. 

It's possible to participate in the program outside of the neighborhoods mentioned above, but block captains outside of those areas may have to do additional fundraising and legwork, Burley says. 

SOUL is funded through sponsorships, donations and grants — the first donation the organization ever received was a $5,000 gift from Parkway Bakery and Tavern. The group also partners with the New Orleans Department of Parks and Parkways and currently is working to advise District C Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer on environmental issues. 

Residents may apply for a tree throughout the year. Since its inception in 2016, SOUL has planted more than 800 trees in New Orleans.

Burley's goal is to plant 1,000 trees this upcoming season, with hopes to expand to as many as 2,000 per year.

"The idea is that we can scale up and really make a dent in the issue of our deforestation," she says.