Most developing countries of the world are experiencing large-scale migration from rural to urban areas. Many new migrants end up in low-cost or informal areas and slums with attendant environmental concerns. One dimension of improved urban sustainability is the provision of green spaces and trees. Whilst many countries have urban greening programmes for public spaces and streets, few have considered the status and potential contribution of trees from resident’s own gardens. This paper reports firstly on the policy environment for urban forestry and greening in South Africa and secondly on the maintenance, use and appreciation of trees on private homesteads of residents of new and older low-income suburbs as well as informal housing areas from three small towns in South Africa. In particular we examine if the most recent centrally planned and built low-income housing schemes (called RDP suburbs in South Africa) have considered and incorporated plans or spaces for urban greenery in peoples homesteads. We found that broad environmental and sustainability concerns and statements are common in urban development and housing policies, but specific guidelines for implementation are generally absent. More specifically, urban forestry and tree planting are rarely mentioned in the broader land use and environmental policies other than the national forest act and subsequent regulations, but even there it is relatively superficial. In the study towns the prevalence, density and number of species of trees was lowest in the new RDP suburbs relative to the township and informal areas. Consequently, the contribution of tree products to local livelihoods was also lower in the RDP areas. Yet there were no differences in the level of appreciation of the value and intangible benefits of trees between residents from the three different suburbs. This shows that the failure to plan for and accommodate trees in new low-cost housing developments is missing an opportunity to improve overall urban sustainability and liveability and constraining the potential flows of tangible and intangible benefits to urban residents. Making opportunities for such in older suburbs is challenging because of space limitations and cost implications of retrospective provisions, but incorporation into plans for new low-cost housing development should be possible.