Understanding of urban residents’ preferences and dislikes for tree species and attributes is necessary to provide them with the species they most favour. Yet there is relatively little understanding of local species preferences, the reasons underlying them and how they vary with context and scale. We interviewed 1100 urban residents in eleven towns (four in Zimbabwe, four in Limpopo Province and three in the Eastern Cape of South Africa) to determine what were their favourite and least favourite tree species and the reasons for such. Fifty-nine species were listed amongst the preferred species (the four most common being Jacaranda mimosifolia (10% or respondents), Mangifera indica (10%), Adonsonia digitata (7%) and Colophospermum mopane (7%)), and 29 as disliked (the four most common being Vachellia spp, J. mimosifolia, Euphorbia spp. and Melia azedarach), with 16 in common between the two. Across the entire sample, the most common reason for preferring a particular species was that it had tasty fruits (19%), closely followed by the species evoking memories of where the respondent grew up (19%), and that it attained a large size (15%). The main reasons for disliking a species were because it was thorny (26% of responses), messy (16%), allergenic (15%), or poisonous (14%). There were no clear associations between preferences and respondent attributes, other than females being more likely to mention a disliked species than were males. There were clear intra- and inter-regional differences in the species preferred, and some of the reasons provided. There was some indication that preferred species are ones that are most apparent in the local environment but requires further investigation. The regional and inter-town differences emphasise that planting programmes should be informed by local preferences and needs, and that planting a diversity of species is likely to help match the diversity of preferences and needs.