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Trees and Construction – Part I

Avoiding Damage

You have decided to make the big leap. Your hard work has paid off, and you are going to build a new house. Not only that, but you also have your heart set on a beautiful wooded lot so that your new dream home can be nestled among the shade of the large, majestic trees which cover your carefully selected parcel of real estate. Just imagine the shade and beauty all of those mature trees will add for years to come.

It is at this very moment that your need for a certified Arborist is at its height: before anything has been touched on the lot, and even better, before a final house plan has been chosen. You have selected a wooded lot, and presumably, you wish to have as many trees as possible when the project is complete. However, there is more to preserving trees during construction than just not cutting them down.

In the planning stages, a certified Arborist, in cooperation with your builder, is the best way to maximize tree survival during and after construction. I highly recommend an on-site meeting with the owner, the builder and the Arborist prior to any work starting. Obviously, trees will need to be removed for the house site, the driveway, the septic field (if necessary), utility access, and any additional yard space desired. The trees to remain are the ones that require diligent attention throughout the building process to ensure maximum survival.

Beyond direct physical damage to a tree's trunk or crown, other factors always come into play. Soil compaction, grade changes up or down, trenching through the root system, and exposure to a new set of environmental conditions can all impact tree health.

Many people don't think about the health of their trees until a year after the house is completed and the trees are in substantial decline. Not all trees are beyond hope at this point, but the frantic rescue attempts can be avoided with good pre-planning and the expert advice of a certified Arborist.

Here are some steps that can be taken to preserve trees during construction. First, designating and fencing off of “tree protection zones”, is one of the most effective measures. The single biggest killer of trees post-construction, is soil compaction. Prolonged vehicle and equipment traffic on a site can severely compact soils and cut water absorption dramatically. Keeping traffic out of these zones is important.

Second, Limit access to predetermined areas. The driveway is a rather obvious access, and often a second access to the rear is necessary for concrete trucks to pour the foundation. However, even that is avoidable by using a concrete pump truck. All traffic uses the designated access routes, and not just wherever they feel like driving in.

Third, Mulch. Where it may not be practical to fence off an area to all traffic, it can be mulched to help hold moisture and minimize compaction.

Not to be left out, clear and thorough communication to all subcontractors of the tree preservation policies by the builder is imperative. I would highly suggest making these things part of the written contract specifications including penalties and costs for cure if necessary.

Next month we'll talk about treatment of trees already stressed from construction.

Russell Hodge is a Certified Arborist and can be reached by e-mail at rljhodge@hotmail.com.

 

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