Homeowners are snapping up everything from Ohio buckeyes and pin oaks to Korean maples and Honeycrisp apple trees in several west metro communities that offer spring tree sales.

The rush in Minneapolis recently crashed a website six minutes after it opened to take orders online. Other cities such as Plymouth, Bloomington and Minnetonka say their supplies usually sell out quickly every year.

“We were overwhelmed. We’ve never really had any kind of response like we’ve seen this year,” said Karen Zumach, community forestry organizer for Tree Trust, a nonprofit that administers programs for Minneapolis and St. Louis Park.

Even with the website troubles, Minneapolis sold 1,300 trees in two days and has a waiting list of 400 people. The city offered 16 different species of trees at $25 each, available one per household to city residents.

Those who purchased the trees will be able to pick them up at the city impound lot in mid-May.

Zumach attributes the unusual demand to social media, which spread the news that trees were available at a low cost, and to a greater desire by people to replace trees that have been damaged in storms, or might be vulnerable to diseases such as oak wilt or pests like the emerald ash borer.

The trees, sold in containers with soil, are high-quality and good-sized, Zumach said: 4 to 6 feet high, and about an inch in diameter.

“It’s $25 for a tree that in a garden center would typically run $75 to $150, depending on the species,” she said. The trees are purchased at a discount from several major nurseries in the area, she said, with subsidies from the city of Minneapolis.

‘Green infrastructure’

The city of Minnetonka offers a similar program at $33 per tree with a limit of two per property, and is also sold out for 2014.

The city sold about 1,200 trees this spring and about 10,000 to residents since 2007, said Minnetonka forester Emily Ball. Buyers will pick up this year’s trees at the end of the month.

“People just love this program,” she said.

The saplings help to replace the 1,000 to 3,000 elms and oaks that are removed in the city each year because of Dutch elm disease and oak wilt, she said.

“We view trees as green infrastructure,” Ball said. “There’s a big movement to look at trees in terms of the ecological services they provide, not just as something pretty to look at.”

Trees help to mitigate the severity of storms, she said, with leaves and branches that slow down raindrops, and roots that absorb water instead of allowing it to run off and drain into creeks and rivers. Trees also provide habitat and food for wildlife and birds, she said, and energy benefits to homes and businesses. And trees hold soil in place to prevent erosion, and remove carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the air.

Beyond the environmental benefits, Ball said, trees improve property values and contribute to the overall livability of a city.

Mixing up the forest

Bloomington city forester Dave Hanson said his city sells about 250 bare root trees each year at $50 apiece with a limit of five per household. Not having the roots in soil makes the young trees much lighter and less bulky to transport, he said, and the trees start growing once planted. From the city’s standpoint, Hanson said, the program helps enrich Bloomington’s overall forest composition by adding certain species.

“In some ways we can add variety and diversity to the urban forest by offering trees people might not think to buy, like hackberry and river birch,” he said.

The city does not subsidize the costs of trees, Hanson said, but passes along savings achieved by purchasing in volume.

Other cities that offer tree sales to residents include St. Louis Park, which began a program in 2009 and this year is selling 350 trees for $35 each. Burnsville sells not only bare-root trees and shrubs, but also native wildflowers, ferns and grasses.

Cities that have sales usually describe the program on their websites or in newsletters, with details about whether species are still available, prices and pickups.

In Plymouth, forestry technician Lara Newberger said she began the program in 2007 with about 30 orders, and it has doubled each year since then. In 2012 Plymouth sold 1,000 shrubs and 600 trees to about 250 customers, she said. As in many programs, tree care experts are available at pickups to answer questions or provide handouts about how to plant and care for the trees, she said.

“Many customers purchase every year,” Newberger said. “I can’t imagine where they put it all.”