Thursday, February 28, 2008

Protecting Trees During Construction

You have to begin planning even before the lot is cleared. If you buy a "spec" house from a builder, you may be disappointed a year or two later to find he was not careful, and your trees are dying. You are faced with the expense of removing dead trees. If you paid a higher price for the lot because of the trees, you've also lost your investment.

Saving trees around a house or building that you're constructing is a big plus for beauty and the pocketbook.

You probably enjoy the shade and beauty trees offer, but you may not know saving trees saves money. Shade trees cut cooling and heating costs, and can add from five to ten percent to the real estate value of a home.

Unfortunately, many who try to save trees around a new home or building are disappointed later when the trees die. But, with careful construction your trees can survive.

Construction damage kills

The number one killer of trees during construction is damage. Those clearing your lot sometimes damage the roots or trunks of trees. Or, they may smother the roots by packing the soil with heavy equipment or with fill dirt over the roots. To make way for concrete slabs and driveways, construction crews sometimes cut roots, and installing underground utilities or grading the lot can cut roots.

Most of the vital feeder roots of trees are in the top foot of soil and extend even beyond the drip line of tree branches.

Supervise closely

You must be firm with the builders. Even then, supervise them closely. Insist on proper care during lot clearing. Build barricades around trees to prevent damage. Crews may need to clear most of the lot by hand and use heavy equipment only on the house site itself.

Clear lots during dry weather. Heavy equipment damages roots more during wet weather.

Have equipment enter and leave the site from one location, preferably the driveway site.

Try to have underground utilities laid away from tree roots. But, if they have to pass close to a tree, insist that corridors be tunneled under major roots instead of trenched. You should ask to have all utilities laid in one corridor, if possible .

If you have to change the drainage pattern or grade of the lot, use retaining walls to protect your trees.

For driveways, walks, or patios that extend over root zones, use a pervious material such as turf-stone, gravel or shell.

If you're thinking about buying a house already under construction, look for symptoms of construction damage. Look for injuries to tree trunks, exposed or cut roots, a slab too close to trees or a patio surrounding them. Other clues are thinning and yellowing of leaves, or die-back at the top or on branch ends.

Sometimes trees can be doctored back to health after construction.

Corrective care

Fertilization, watering and aeration of compacted soils are all good medicine for trees suffering from construction stress. Other aids are wound repair, dead limb removal and pruning to compensate for root loss.

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