Duval County volunteers keep Jacksonville trees trim

Jacksonville, the largest city by landmass in the contiguous United States, is also home to the country’s largest urban park system – more than 80,000 acres of land featuring more than 400 parks. For a decade, a cadre of gloved individuals armed with pruning shears has helped provide the city’s young trees with a healthy start.

Duval County Tree steward
A volunteer of the Duval County Tree Stewards trims a tree limb at a park near Jacksonville, Florida. (By Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)

Duval County’s tree stewards program began in 2014 thanks to a $2,000 Florida Forest Service grant. Since that time, about 70 Master Gardener Volunteers have chosen to tack on an additional 20 hours of arboriculture training to their 70 hours of horticulture training to become stewards.

Master Gardeners are part of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension.

Larry Figart, a forester with UF/IFAS Extension Duval County, teaches the county’s tree steward course, and he’s gearing up to offer the next training session in May. At least 10 people had signed up by the middle of April.

The tree steward program is facilitated through a partnership with the city of Jacksonville Parks, Recreation and Community Services department. Twice a month throughout the year, groups of stewards visit parks throughout the city and prune young trees, including oaks, lacebark elms and crepe myrtles.

“We feel if we get to the trees when they’re young, we can fix some structural problems that help them live a longer, more productive life,” Figart said.

Figart estimates his students have managed to prune 4,245 trees since the program began. Their efforts have ensured Jacksonville’s immature trees are structurally sound and look attractive. They have also helped prepare the trees to withstand strong winds during hurricane season, effectively protecting the public from falling branches in the process.

Duval County tree stewards
A volunteer of the Duval County Tree Stewards trims a tree limb at a park near Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)

The stewards are also quick to honor pruning requests from city officials when officials notice problem areas or in preparation of city events, said Lauren Chappell, Jacksonville Parks, Recreation and Community Services project and grant coordinator.

Last year, the stewards assisted with the city’s 7 Creeks Festival, a celebration of local public lands at seven connected wilderness areas and parks in the 7 Creeks Recreation Area.

“The tree stewards went out to Betz-Tiger Point Preserve and trimmed the trees along the park roadway in preparation for the 1,000-plus attendees to have better access to different features of the park,” Chappell said.

In 2023, 18 Duval County tree stewards donated more than 191 hours working in 10 Jacksonville parks. They pruned more than 200 trees by removing defects, co-dominant stems and dead branches.

“I’ll ask participants, ‘Do you wait until your kids are 20 years old before you discipline them?’ And they’ll say, ‘No.’ And I’ll say, ‘Then why do we wait until a tree is 20 years old before we prune it?’” Figart said. “We can make them stronger, longer-lasting trees if we prune them while they’re young.”


The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu  |  @UF_IFAS


Megan Winslow
Posted: April 24, 2024

Category: Agriculture, Community Volunteers, Disaster Preparation, Horticulture, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: 7 Creeks Recreation Area, Duval County, Extension, Institute Of Food And Agricultural Sciences, Jacksonville, Jacksonville Parks, Larry Figart, Lauren Chappell, Master Gardener Volunteer, Megan Winslow, Park, Recreation And Community Services, Tree, Tress Stewards, Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS, University Of Florida, Volunteer

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