A good tree is worth protecting

Heavy equipment, digging operations call for extra care, arborist says

In The Garden

April 17, 2005|By Kathy Van Mullekom | Kathy Van Mullekom,THE DAILY PRESS

You're building a house or putting a major addition on your home, and you've asked the builder to preserve a big white oak that you like. That's a smart request, because good trees add monetary value and visual interest to property.

"Trees break up the architecture of a home and soften the hardscape," says Andrew Koenig, an arborist with Bartlett Tree Experts in Yorktown, Va. The company has offices throughout the country (www.bartlett.com).

"It's important to take care of them any time there's heavy construction equipment in your yard."

The digging and trenching that's done during construction and installation of underground utilities often severs the roots of trees in the immediate area. Even installing an underground irrigation system can cause damage, because 90 percent of a tree's root system lives in the top 6 to 12 inches of soil. Cutting one major root can cause the loss of 5 to 20 percent of the root system, according to the International Society of Arboriculture.

Also, heavy construction equipment running around the yard compacts soil around tree roots and prevents them from getting the oxygen they need.

Finally, when construction is done and the yard is graded and landscaped, extra soil is often piled over tree roots, smothering them. As little as 2 to 6 inches of additional soil can be detrimental to roots' health.

Take steps to protect that oak, or any other trees, against construction damage, says Koenig and other arborists. Most important, install protective barriers around each tree's root system, allowing one foot of space from the trunk for each inch of trunk diameter, according to the society. Keep that area clear of building materials, waste and excess soil, and make sure that no digging, trenching or other soil disturbance is allowed in that fenced area.

"Orange fencing is the most visible barrier," says Koenig. "It is an easy solution to say 'do not enter.' "

After your house or addition is complete, trees in the construction area should be fertilized, mulched and any bark wounds properly shaped. And keep the trees watered when there is inadequate rainfall. You also need to check for insect damage because pests such as borers are inclined to attack stressed trees.

The Daily Press, of Newport News, Va., is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Tree tips

Early spring and fall are the ideal times to plant trees. These cool seasons allow new roots to establish themselves before hot, dry weather arrives.

Before digging, contact your local utility company to have underground utility lines marked; often, it's free.

Dig a wide, shallow hole three times as wide as the root ball but only as deep as the ball. Most tree roots grow in the top 6 to 12 inches of the soil. If planted too deeply, roots have difficulty developing because they lack oxygen.

Identify the trunk flare, the spot where the roots spread at the base of the tree. This point should be partially visible after the tree has been planted.

Straighten the tree before you fill the hole with soil. Fill about one-third full and gently pack soil around the base of the root ball. Cut and remove any burlap, string or wire around the root ball.

Continue filling the hole, firmly packing soil to eliminate air pockets that can cause the roots to dry out. To avoid this problem, add the soil a few inches at a time and settle with water. No fertilizer is needed.

Mulch around the tree to help retain moisture, keep out weeds and protect the trunk from mechanical damage from lawn mowers and weed eaters.

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