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Protect Your Trees during Construction

Looking up at tall trees

Are you planning to build or remodel a home? Are your city’s streets, curbs, sidewalks and buried utilities about to be widened, modernized or completely replaced? Before you start, consider the impact of construction on your trees as the experts at Image Tree Service in Windsor, CA take you through a helpful series of useful tips.

Trees contribute to property values by beautifying your yard; reducing noise; saving on energy costs; screening unsightly views and attracting songbirds and other wildlife. Unfortunately, trees that are meant to be part of a home’s permanent landscape often are needlessly damaged or killed during construction. Careful planning and coordination with a tree-care specialist like Image Tree Service, Inc. in Windsor, CA and your builder can reduce damage and save you the trouble and expense of treating or removing injured plants.

Each construction site has its own unique set of soil, tree species, and building process conditions. For this reason we recommend that you get advice from a professional tree service with experience in protecting trees from construction damage. Jeff Kowell, the owner of Image Tree Service knows the ins and outs of how to save your trees during construction. “Many of our clients are contractors who build high-end homes and in those cases, we often meet first with the owner, builder and architect before they even stake out the property,” Kowell explained. “That way we can advise them about how far to set up the trees, based on all of the underground construction, where they will be trenching and determining how close the foundation will sit next to the trees on the property, etc. In some cases, we can’t move a tree, so we usually use the air spade in those situations. By using the air, it exposes all of the roots, so that we can then cut the roots cleanly. Then, we set up a temporary irrigation system for the tree that lasts usually two years, because we just cut off the roots that are absorbing the lion’s share of the moisture. 

Trees can be damaged or killed by a wide variety of construction activities. Some practices lead to obvious injuries such as broken branches or torn bark. Open wounds of this type will deplete a tree’s energy resources and provide entry points for insects or for diseases such as Oak wilt. The worst damage, however, often remains hidden underground. “Roots are one of the most vital parts of a tree,” Kowell said. “They are responsible for nutrient and water uptake, store energy, and anchor the plant. Because they are so important, it is critical that you protect roots that lie in the path of construction.

Trees are never the same shape below ground as they are above, so it is difficult to predict the length or location of their roots. Typically, however, approximately 90-95 percent of a tree’s root system is in the top three feet of soil, and more than half is in the top one foot. The part of this root system in which construction damage should be avoided is called the Protected Root Zone (PRZ).

One common method used to identify the PRZ is to define it as the “dripline”—the area directly below the branches of the tree.  However, many roots extend beyond the longest branches a distance equal to two or more times the height of the tree. For this reason you should protect as much of the area beyond the dripline as possible.

Kowell and his crew know how to deal with roots in order to damage or kill the tree. “Root damage often occurs when building contractors and grading contractors damage a tree’s roots by excavating during construction or by parking vehicles too close to the trees and a whole range of other issues,” he said. “Using an air-spade, we can expose the tree’s roots safely and cut them cleanly. If a contractor wants to install pipes in the vicinity of the tree’s root system that can be achieved with the air-spade and the roots can be saved, in most cases. When the fine, very small roots at the top of the soil get damaged it means that they can’t deliver nutrients to the larger roots down below, so the tree’s root system fails and the tree will eventually die. These fine roots near the surface are the absorbing roots, so by using the air spade, we can protect the main life source for the tree.

At Image Tree Service, Inc. in Windsor, CA, our business philosophy is simple–educate people about their trees, give them good, honest information and do the best job possible. We’ve completed over 5,000 projects over the past 20 years and the results speak for themselves. Whether you want stumps ground,  trees planted or transplanted, tree root management, tree fertilizing, tree fire prevention, tree removal or want to get advice from our arborist, Image Tree Service, Inc. has been there and done that and happy to do it all again.