Constructing with Care

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 29, 2010

move the driveway location and choose a smaller oak to build the circle drive around. Larger, older trees can be saved, but they require special care. You improve your chances for success with these and all trees if proper protection is installed around the saved tree area before any equipment arrives on site.

Tree Protection

No matter the size of the tree, a protection barrier should always be installed. Tree protection should be a physical barrier—something that is visible to anyone that enters the construction site. Orange construction fence wired to T-post works well. The fence or barrier should be placed as far away from the tree as possible. At minimum, the barrier should be set at the dripline on construction sites. The dripline is measured at the point on the ground beneath the farthest overhanging limb.

At this point in the construction process, I recommend you have another meeting with your contractor. Designate storage areas for materials, including soil. Soil placed inside of the saved tree areas has the same effect as compaction on tree feeder roots. Establish turnaround areas for equipment, parking for construction workers and concrete truck cleanout. I recommend you also do one more thing—meet with as many people as possible that will be working on your property. Damage often occurs unknowingly. Explain the purpose of the fence. As with most things, communication is vital.

If a barrier of orange fencing is just not possible, use mulch instead. Chipped bark mulch can be placed as deep as 10 inches around the saved tree areas. This protects the feeder roots by acting as a mattress for them. It also keeps the roots cool and moist. When the project is finished, rake the mulch out to about 3 to 4 inches deep and away from the trunk of the tree. This will help with post-construction care as well. During and after construction, watering trees can help reduce the mortality rate.

Finish Work

Trees are often damaged during finish work on a project. The tree protection fence is removed because final grade is about to occur. Remember that the tree feeder roots lie shallow in the soil, so if fill dirt is added any more than 6 inches deep and then graded out with equipment, then the same type of compaction and reaction occurs to the trees on the property.

The trees were there before construction, so they don’t need any additional soil. Only add topsoil to open areas that you are considering for grass. Utilize the mulch rings as part of the landscape, and if the great oak tree didn’t have grass under it to start with, consider the mulch ring as the “grass” under it now.

Following these guidelines will help you retain both the beauty and value of your property. Contact a local forester or arborist or your regional Department of Conservation office  for more information. A wealth of resources is also available on the Department Web site.

Checklist for Constructing with care:

  • Scaled detail map of property:
    • Location of structure and driveway
    • Location of all utilities
  • On-site identification of all of the above (marked on the ground)
  • Identify trees for removal
  • Choose younger trees to save
  • Choose areas of trees to save rather than one tree (if possible)
  • Install tree protection barriers
  • Use mulch instead of fences for barricades or better yet, use both
  • Have a pre-construction meeting on site:
    • Make sure everyone understands why the fences are there
    • Everyone knows what you expect
  • Write a contract that includes fines for encroachment on the protection areas
  • Designate employee parking, turnaround areas and storage areas for all building supplies
  • Drop in unexpectedly on your project often
  • Prune trees for clearance of equipment to the site
  • Remember that compaction hurts!
  • If trenching is to occur anywhere in a saved tree area, make sure roots are cleanly cut, not ripped or torn
  • Water saved trees during and after construction
  • Consider hiring a tree professional to monitor your project and care for the saved trees

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