The conflict between land development and tree protection seems
to be a losing battle. Oftentimes, a building site has been chosen
because of the presence of mature trees. These trees, however, have
difficulty surviving the construction process. Although most developers
would prefer to save trees on a property, they are often discouraged
by past failures or regulations that force them to remove trees
to locate utilities. Communication and cooperation among all participants
involved in the building process (landowner, contractors, architect,
landscape architect, arborist, etc.) is essential to ensure a successful
you have selected the trees to remain on the property, consider
their location in deciding placement of the house, garage, driveway,
walks and patio. Simply changing the angle of a building or curving
a walk can preserve the essential root space of a prized tree. It
is important at this point to be in close communication with your
architect, who can help by locating buildings to harmonize with
the natural terrain. The key to the survival of trees in the years
following construction is protection of the roots during construction.
The three main causes of tree death during construction are soil
compaction, grade changes and root severing.
compaction cuts off air and water to the tree roots. The damage
caused by soil compaction occurs slowly, sometimes not becoming
evident for several years. To prevent vehicular and foot traffic
around the roots of protected trees, erect physical barriers beyond
the dripline of individual trees, or better yet, groups of trees.
When this is not possible, other protective methods can be used:
(1) spreading several inches of wood chips in the root zone area;
(2) bridging root areas with plates of steel. Work with the builder
to locate and mark (with signs or flagging) all parking places for
workers, construction roads, and areas for storage of building materials,
soil and gravel.
Grade changes are often necessary during construction of a new building.
When the grade around an established tree is being raised, consider
methods of preventing injury to the tree before the fill is made
rather than attempting to take corrective measures after the damage
has been done. While the initial cost may be high, prevention is
always cheaper and more effective than attempting to correct the
situation after damage has been done.
Remove all vegetation, including underbrush and sod, beneath the
branch spread of the tree. Break up the top 3 to 6 inches of soil
carefully so as to disturb the least possible amount of roots. This
allows better contact between the fill and soil surface. Apply fertilizer
at recommended rates.
an open-joint wall of shell, brick, rock or masonry in a circle
around the tree trunk, with at least 1 to 2 feet between the wall
and trunk. This wall should be as high as the top of the new grade.
This opening is commonly referred to as a tree well.
an aeration system using 4-inch agricultural clay tile or 4-inch
perforated plastic pipe arranged in five to six horizontal lines
radiating from the tree well like spokes in a wheel to a point beyond
the branch spread. Allow excess moisture to drain away by installing
the radial lines so they slope away from the trunk. Connect the
outer ends of the radiating system with a circle of tile or perforated
provide vents, place 4- or 6-inch plastic pipe or bell tile upright
over the junction of the radial lines with the circle. They should
extend to the surface of the planned grade level. Extend the lower
end of the aeration system to a curb or storm drain to carry excess
moisture away from the root system.
the exposed soil and tile system with rock or coarse gravel to a
depth of 6 to18 inches, depending on the amount of fill. Follow
this with a covering layer of gravel. Place a thin layer of straw,
woven plastic or other porous material over the gravel to prevent
soil from filtering into the gravel and stone. Fill with good topsoil
to the desired grade.
To discourage rodents, fill the tree well with enough coarse gravel
to cover the ends of the lines opening into the well. Also fill
the upright bell tile and cover with a screen or grill.
tree well can be left open, covered with a metal grill or wooden
deck, or filled with a mixture of coarse sand and charcoal (50 percent
each, by volume) to within several inches of the top. If filled
with the sand/charcoal mixture, cover with pea gravel, decorative
bark or other attractive material to allow air circulation through
the tile system.
An alternate method can be used if 30 inches or less fill will be
used. No tile or pipe is used Â only gravel. Again, remove all sod
and underbrush, break up the soil surface above the roots and apply
fertilizer at recommended rates.
at the dripline, apply from 3 to 6 inches of crushed stone or coarse
gravel. Gradually increase the depth towards the trunk of the tree
until it is 8 to 12 inches or deeper within 2 feet of the trunk.
The gravel can reach the surface of the fill in the area extending
2 feet around the trunk of the tree. Cover the gravel with a thin
layer of straw, woven plastic or other porous material to prevent
soil from filtering into the gravel and sealing the air spaces.
Spread good topsoil over the area to the desired depth. Use good,
well-drained topsoil in making the fill in order to provide adequate
aeration for normal root activity and tree growth.
There will likely be less damage to a tree when the grade is lowered,
unless a great amount of the root zone is exposed or removed. Removing
1 to 2 inches of soil normally will not affect the growth of a tree,
especially if steps are taken to ensure that drought damage does
not result from loss of roots. Use retaining walls or terraces to
avoid excessive soil loss in the area of greatest root growth. When
possible, spread mulch over the exposed area to help prevent soil
erosion, reduce moisture loss and keep soil temperatures lower.
Provide adequate water in the event of a prolonged drought.
If a fill has been in place long enough that the tree is already
showing symptoms of deterioration, there is little that can be done
to save the tree. If the fill was made recently, or if serious damage
has not occurred, steps can be taken to correct the problem.
If the increase was greater than 12 inches, it will be necessary
to install a tile and gravel aeration system as described above,
excavating the soil to the original grade.
If the increase is less than 12 inches, remove the soil around the
trunk, down to the original soil level, for a radius of 2 feet beyond
the tree trunk. Install a dry well around the trunk to hold the
fill soil in place. Drill or dig holes every 2 feet beneath the
branch spread, starting about 2 feet from the well. Insert a 6-inch
tile or plastic pipe and fill with coarse gravel to allow free air
and gas exchange to the roots.
Although some cutting of roots near construction is inevitable,
much of it can be avoided with good planning and cooperation. It
is not necessary to route underground utilities in a straight line
from the street to the house. Careful route selection can often
avoid the root systems of important trees. If this is not possible,
reduce damage by tunneling beneath the roots. To reduce trenching
for foundations, substitute posts and pillars for footers and walls
when grade changes are made the terrain is altered, and there may
be a change in how water drains from the land. If too much water
drains into a wooded site, trees in that area may eventually die
from lack of oxygen. It may be necessary to build a drainage system
to maintain the previous amount of moisture that provided natural
growing conditions for the existing trees. If sites are deprived
of water, irrigation may be necessary to maintain existing trees.
for equipment damage to limbs and trunks, and repair promptly. Chemicals
and other products that are often dumped on a construction site
can change the soil chemistry, weakening and often killing trees
on the property. To prevent adverse effects on construction site
heavy plastic tarp where concrete is to be mixed or sheet rock will
be cut. These materials raise the pH, causing alkaline soils.
Do not clean paintbrushes and tools over tree roots.
Dispose of chemical wastes (paint thinner, oil, etc.) properly.
Do not drain these wastes on site.
from Debbie Shaughnessy and Bob Polomski, Clemson University Cooperative
Extension Service, 2001