Tree Planting Campaign

Singapore Infopedia

by Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala


The Tree Planting campaign was launched by the government in 1963 with the objective of making Singapore a green city.1 Every year a minimum of 10,000 saplings are planted as part of this campaign. The campaign includes an annual Tree Planting Day.2

Colonial Period
Before gambier cultivation took off in the 1830s and 1840s, most of Singapore was covered with fertile rainforests. The success of gambier as a cash crop resulted in the clearance of forests to make way for plantations. In the late 1840s there were as many as 600 plantations. Trees were cut down indiscriminately, drastically reducing primary forests. In 1848, the colonial government prohibited any further destruction of forest hills.3

Deforestation nevertheless continued and, alarmed at the depletion of forests in the Straits Settlements, the colonial government commissioned Nathaniel Cantley, the superintendent of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, to survey the extent of forests in the Straits Settlements. The 1883 survey showed that only 7 percent of the island remained forested. Some of the measures recommended to protect the forests included the formation of local forest reserves and the collection and propagation of the best indigenous timber seeds.4

After World War II, the government embarked on a tree planting and landscaping exercise to beautify the island. A Parks Department was formed to oversee tree-planting activities within city limits, while the Public Works Department was responsible for planting trees along rural roads. By the end of the 1950s, many trees had been planted in residential areas but the business areas of the city were comparatively sparse.5

A more sustained effort at the greening of Singapore took place in 1963 when the government launched the Tree Planting campaign that was inaugurated by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.6 Apart from wanting to improve the image of Singapore, the campaign also aimed to promote awareness and appreciation of the need for trees in the environment. The campaign hoped to yield 10,000 new trees annually.7 In its early years, the campaign was not successful due to the people’s lack of empathy for trees and a lack of expertise for the campaign.8 In 1967, the government introduced the Garden City programme to create a holistic green environment where parks, gardens and open spaces would be linked by a network of tree-lined roads.9 In November 1971, the government launched the annual Tree Planting Day.10

The Tree Planting campaign is often led by ministers and members of parliament who organise tree planting activities in their own constituencies. In 1974, plants were sold at half-price at the government plants sales centre at Dunearn Road to encourage people to buy trees for planting.11 In 1977, political leaders led the campaign to plant a total of 33,300 new trees and shrubs. The government plants sales centres at Dunearn and Dempsey roads sold fruit trees at half-price.12

The 1992 campaign was launched as part of the Clean and Green Week campaign and trees were planted in 69 constituencies.13 Between 1984 and 1989, overseas visits to Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Australia were conducted by the Primary Production Department (PPD) to explore the possibility of introducing newer species of fruit trees in Singapore.14 In 2001, religious organisations were roped in to spread the word about green issues and encourage people to get involved in planting activities.15 In 2002, the National Parks Board began encouraging developers and building owners to set up roof gardens to achieve a greener skyline and keep the city cool.16


Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

1. Tan Yong Meng, “Greening of S’pore Gets an A+ but Green Plan Scores a D,” Straits Times, 11 September 1993, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Jalelah Abu Bakar, “Tree Planting Day in Singapore: 5 Things about the 51-Year-Old Tradition,” Straits Times, 3 November 2014. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Azhar Ghani, “Keeping Singapore Green,” April 2011.  
4. Tan Wee Kiat, “Keeping Botanical Gardens Relevant ‒ The Singapore Botanic Gardens Experience, Botanic Gardens Conservation International 3, no. 3 (December 1999): 45–48. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website); Ghani, “Keeping Singapore Green.”
5. Ghani, “Keeping Singapore Green.”
6. Kwan Chooi Tow, “PPD's Search for New Trees Bears Fruit,” Straits Times, 18 January 1993, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Ghani, “Keeping Singapore Green.”
8. “Body to Make People Care for Trees,” Straits Times, 19 April 1967, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Tan, “Keeping Botanical Gardens Relevant,” 45–48.
10. “1963: The Greening of Singapore,” Singapore Botanic Gardens, updated 9 August 2021.
11. “Plants at Half-Price,” Straits Times, 18 October 1974, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “MPs to Lead Tree Planting Campaign,” Straits Times, 30 October 1977, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Making Singapore Green,” Straits Times, 1 November 1992, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Kwan, “PPD's Search for New Trees Bears Fruit.”
15. Eunice Lau, “Groups of Different Faiths Join Green Movement,” Straits Times, 17 March 2001, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Tee Hun Ching, “Green Piece,” Straits Times, 5 October 2003, 1. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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