Don’t Let Construction or Landscaping Kill Your Trees

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Each spring and summer, landscaping and construction projects start up throughout the Hudson Valley. Everything from creating new planting beds to repaving a driveway or even building a home addition seems to happen during the warmer months.

But your deck or patio project, fence installation, or swimming pool dreams might end up costing far more than you anticipated. Why? Because if you don’t plan in advance to protect your trees, you could find yourself needing to get a hazardous tree removed in a few years.

Most people don’t realize the huge impact that major landscaping and construction projects have on nearby trees. So before you start, take some time to assess the condition of your trees and understand how they will be affected by your property improvement project. If needed, put a tree protection plan in place. These simple steps will help to eliminate surprises and reduce overall project costs.

How Construction and Excavation Impact Trees

The Dangers of Landscape Excavation

Diagram of a tree protection plan.

A tree protection plan lays out all the details of your current landscape and makes recommendations for how to protect your tree during a major landscaping or construction project.

Healthy roots provide a solid base for your trees. As long as the soil has adequate nutrients and good drainage, roots spread out and continue to support the weight of the tree trunk and branches.

Excavating may change the soil composition and upset the ecosystem that exists below the soil surface. This typically occurs when excavating near or around established trees.

Before you start digging, be sure to call your local arborist. They can help with the construction process, as well as help you and your contractor understand what can happen when roots aren’t taken into consideration. Root repair requires enormous energy from the tree and can leave your trees vulnerable to all sorts of problems and diseases.

Stay Away From Roots

It can be difficult to predict how far tree roots have spread and how deep they have grown. You may be surprised to learn that many tree species grow roots well beyond the canopy or drip line. The bulk of roots grow within 12 inches of the surface. Sometimes, more than half of the overall root system is found within the first foot of soil.

Excavation can seriously damage these vital parts of your tree, resulting in disease and decline, poor growth patterns, insect infestations, decay, and more. Trees with damaged root systems are also more susceptible to storm damage and other major problems that result in the need for hazardous tree removal.

Grading Issues

Changing the grade on your property may also negatively affect tree health. Be sure that any grading changes will not create erosion near tree root systems. Regrading may alter soil composition, which often results in slower growth and poor tree health. And adding soil over the root zone can increase soil compaction and cut off or reduce vital moisture and oxygen supplies to the tree.

Before starting on a major landscaping project in the Hudson Valley area, call the arborists at Hill Treekepers for a consultation. Planning for your trees as part of your project may save you the time, money, and pain of hazardous tree removal later.

What to Do BEFORE A Construction or Landscaping Project To Protect Your Trees

Some planning before you begin a project can save you time, money, and aggravation later. We strongly recommend working with an arborist to create a tree protection plan. But, at a minimum, you’ll want to do or document the following:

  • Take note of the current status of your trees, including taking some photos to document their health, size, and location.
  • Install tree protection, such as plastic fencing, around any trees that you want to save. This will prevent vehicles from getting too close or equipment accidentally hitting the trees.
  • Schedule pruning or remove any trees or branches that will be in the way of the project before work starts. Dead trees, especially, should be removed before any other work begins.
  • You may also want to add mulch or straw to any areas where heavy vehicles or equipment may be driving or parking. Covering the mulch or straw with plywood or road plates adds another level of protection and may prevent some soil compaction.

An orange construction fence surrounds a tree in the winter.

What to Do DURING a Construction or Landscaping Project to Protect Your Trees

Once the work has begun, we recommend checking on your trees regularly. If you have particularly valuable trees, you’ll want to check daily. Here are the things to look for:

  • Ensure that any tree protection stays in place. Repair or replace it if it gets moved, torn, or broken.
  • Make sure any work being done isn’t harming your trees, and document any damage you spot (photos are best).
  • Always let the contractor know of any tree damage right away.
  • Ask your contractor to remove any debris that has piled up, as well as any materials that are too close to trees or their roots.
  • If you have an irrigation system, check that there are no leaks and that all trees and landscape plants are getting adequate water.

What to Do AFTER a Construction or Landscaping Project to Help Your Trees Recover

Even after a project is completed, your trees may need some extra attention. This is especially true if they were harmed in the process. Some symptoms of construction-related tree damage may not show up until several months later. We recommend checking your trees for any signs of distress for up to a year after the project was completed.

Immediately after the project is done, check again for and document any clear issues. Then take steps to correct what you can.

  • If any branches were broken, have them professionally pruned out.
  • Ensure any irrigation system is working correctly and make sure your trees are receiving the correct amount of water.
  • Replenish the mulch layer around your trees, being careful to keep it away from the tree trunk.
  • Remove any extra construction materials that may have been left behind.

Damaged trees decline slowly and the decline may not be obvious at first. That’s why ensuring that they have the proper levels of water and nutrients is vital for the year following your project.

Planning a Construction or Landscaping Project?

Hill Treekeepers’ arborists can help preserve your trees before, during, and after construction.

Give the arborists at Hill Treekeepers a call at 914-214-7045 to discuss a pre-construction inspection and tree protection plan. A tree inspection by a certified arborist can help identify any problems you may not have noticed. An arborist can also put together a tree health plan to best support the tree as it recovers. This might include deep root fertilization, preventive pest and disease treatments, pruning, structural support, and more.

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Todd Hill

Todd is the founder of Hill Treekeepers and an ISA Certified Arborist with life-long ties to the Hudson Valley area.

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