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10 year logoBy Bruce Zaretsky

‘All of us at one time or another run up against trees that are very much in the way – and our clients simply won’t let us remove them.  To be sure, working around such prized specimens can be a real pain,’ wrote Bruce Zaretsky in his January 2009 On the Level column, ‘which is why so many in the construction trades have passive-aggressive attitudes about them and just wish they’d go away.’  He continued:



‘The resentment of such trees grows by leaps and bounds when they create traffic problems on site, which might explain why their bases become such great resting places for pallets of concrete, unused equipment, scaffolding and garbage dumpsters, among other things.  In actuality, the weight of these objects does more irreparable harm to trees than the occasional ding with a backhoe bucket or skid-steer loader ever could.’


‘The plain fact is that not only do we need to protect the trunks, but we also need to keep equipment and materials far from the trees’ roots as well.  While trees scarred by encounters with equipment show their injuries in an obvious way, the injuries created by root compaction and damage are not so immediately obvious – nor do the consequences manifest themselves right away.’


‘Trees and their surroundings must remain undisturbed at least to their drip lines (that is, to the full extents of their canopies of branches and leaves).  The running of equipment within those lines and over the roots is a sure-fire ticket to those trees’ slow deaths:  Compaction of the soil blocks the roots’ ability to exchange air, water and nutrients with the surrounding soil and slowly (but surely) suffocates them.’  


'Part of the problem is that, when faced with mistreatment, trees don’t immediately shrivel up and die.  It can take months for the first signs of distress to materialize – branches dying back, increased susceptibility to diseases and insect infiltrations, leaf loss and more – and sometimes years for trees to die completely.’


‘This, to make a long story short, is why it’s absolutely imperative that trees must be protected on job sites.  By protection, I mean that trees must be given wide berth by all equipment, people and materials, typically by installing fences around them that extend to their drip lines.’


‘Beyond the instances highlighted above in which root damage and/or compaction played leading roles, an equally difficult time for trees results from projects that involve changing the grade in their vicinities.’


‘In a recent situation that I was involved with, for example, the developer presented a plan for a site where he’d bought three houses in a row and planned to knock them down and replace them with four cookie-cutter commercial buildings.  The lots had originally been residential and had some trees that had been cared for by the homeowners, including a 30-inch sugar maple, a number of oaks in the 24-inch range and a large stand of pines.’  


‘[The developer] told us that he needed to cut and fill areas to make the drainage system work and that the trees were in the way.  I countered with my point that trees would make the site more valuable and that he could more than offset the cost of saving them – and went on to explain that all he needed to do was build wells around the trees before grading to his heart’s content.’  


‘There are other issues, of course, and other possible solutions. . . . I started this discussion with a desire to impart some simple advice on protecting trees on construction sites,’ Bruce concluded, ‘and I’ve done so to the best of my ability.  But I’m not an arborist, and I know well enough that if I have any doubts about how to handle trees put at risk by my actions on site, it’s time to call in a professional and get his or her recommendations on how best to proceed.’

What’s your strategy for dealing with trees on your job sites?  Are they impediments to be overcome or treasures to be preserved?  How do you work with your clients (and arborists) in deciding how to proceed?  Share your thoughts on this important subject by commenting below!


Bruce Zaretsky is president of Zaretsky and Associates, a landscape design/construction/consultation company in Rochester, N.Y.  Nationally recognized for creative and inspiring residential landscapes, he also works with healthcare facilities, nursing homes and local municipalities in conceiving and installing healing and meditation gardens.  You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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