Injury to trees during the construction of a home is difficult or impossible to correct after the fact. And, it can take months to years for affected trees to succumb to the damage that occurs during the construction process.

In today’s article, Kim Coder (University of Georgia professor of Community Forestry) and I provide advice on how to avoid tree damage that too often happens during the construction of a home.

The most important step you can take is to hire a professional arborist to assess a construction situation early in the process. An arborist can work with you and your builder to determine which trees can be saved and how to protect your trees during each phase of construction.

Trees can be damaged in a variety of ways during the construction process. Construction equipment can injure trees by breaking branches, tearing bark and wounding the trunk. The digging and trenching necessary to construct a house can cause root damage. Severing of a major root can cause a loss of 5 percent to 20 percent of a tree’s root system. when significant digging and trenching occurs, there is an increased chance of a tree falling over.

Ninety percent of a tree’s roots that take up water and minerals are in the upper 12 inches of soil. Piling soil over these roots will smother them. And the heavy equipment used in construction compacts the soil, which can severely reduce oxygen levels essential to the growth and function of these roots.

The ability to repair construction damage to trees is limited. The single most important action homeowners can take is to set up construction fences around all trees they want to protect.

These fences should be placed as far away from the trees as possible, in order to protect the root systems. As a general guideline, allow 1 foot of space from the trunk for each inch of trunk diameter.

Instruct construction personnel to keep the fenced area clear of building materials, waste and excess soil. No trenching or other soil disturbances should be allowed in the fenced areas.

Most likely your trees will require several years to adjust to the shock and environmental changes induced during construction. Post-construction trees are more prone to health problems such as disease and insect infestation. By talking with an arborist, you can create a plan for continued maintenance during this critical time.

A list of certified arborists can be obtained at the International Society of Arboriculture website at or by calling 217-355-9411.

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