The city is launching its "Branch Out Columbus" campaign, working with 20 nonprofit groups to plant 300,000 medium-sized trees by the year 2020 and boost the tree cover to 27 percent.

An out-of-town magazine writer wrote a glowing review in June of up-and-coming Columbus as a destination for millennials, describing C-bus as a “leafy city.”

Leafy? Maybe not as much as he thought.

Columbus’ tree canopy covers only 22 percent of the city, less than similar cities.

Columbus “looks like a gray blotch on the satellite image,” said Alex Silbajoris of the Friends of the Scioto River.

To that end, the city is launching its “Branch Out Columbus” campaign, working with 20 nonprofit groups to plant 300,000 medium-sized trees by the year 2020 and boost the tree cover to 27 percent.

The city is doing the following:

• ?Spending $2.5 million to add 12,600 trees — part of the 300,000 planned — throughout city neighborhoods.

• ?Providing $20,000 to pay for $50 rebates for residents who plant native trees on their own. That would amount to 400 trees; the first round of rebates is available through Oct. 31. People can register online for the rebate at www.columbus.gov/branchout.

• ?Preserving and restoring trees in all city-led construction projects.

And the city will be creating five urban tree nurseries to grow and provide trees for residents to plant in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The first will be on vacant land owned by the city’s land bank and Campus Partners, Ohio State University’s nonprofit development arm, on E. 8th Avenue in the Weinland Park neighborhood.

Trees improve air and water quality, and the overall quality of life in any city, said Mayor Michael B. Coleman, who spoke about the plan at the Weinland Park site with city council President and mayoral candidate Andrew J. Ginther and neighborhood leaders on Tuesday afternoon.

“Healthy neighborhoods start from the ground up,” Ginther said.

Half of the city’s 284 neighborhoods have fewer trees than the citywide average of 22?percent. The focus of the effort will be low-income neighborhoods with low home values.

“This is really important to me,” said Coleman, who called this one of his final initiatives before his fourth and final four-year term ends this year. He said that if every city household plants a tree, Columbus would meet its goal.

“We don’t have enough trees in our community,” Coleman said.

He ticked off the percentages of tree cover in other cities: Charlotte, N.C., 46 percent; Pittsburgh, 42 percent; Cincinnati, 39 percent; Washington, 35 percent; Minneapolis, 31 percent; and Austin, Texas, 30 percent.

Although Columbus’ goal is a 27 percent cover by 2020, Coleman said he’d like it to be at least 31 percent.

It’s a tough battle. Coleman said the city anticipates it will lose 200,000 trees to pests, such as the emerald ash borer, and to extreme weather and development.

That’s why the city needs to add 300,000 trees to make up for that loss as well as to add to the canopy, said Erin Miller, the city’s environmental steward.

Weinland Park’s tree cover is only 12 percent, said Brandyn McElroy, who leads the Weinland Park Community Civic Association. “There’s a lot of opportunity in Weinland Park to be a catalyst,” he said.

Miller said 50 to 100 deciduous trees will be planted at the Weinland Park site.

The four other urban nurseries will be established by 2020. These are different than the tree nurseries the city already has.

More trees also should help reduce stormwater runoff and energy bills — shade in the summer cools houses — plus provide more habitat for wildlife, said Silbajoris, of the Scioto River group.

The city’s Recreation and Parks Department has set up a fund at the Columbus Foundation so businesses and residents can donate money toward tree plantings.

For more information, go to www.columbus.gov/branchout.

mferenchik@dispatch.com

@MarkFerenchik