DON’T CONDEMN YOUR TREE TO A SLOW DEATH, by Larry Williams UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Construction work can harm trees. And it might take years for the tree to deteriorate.

The most important step you can take is to hire a professional arborist 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.

The following is provided by Kim Coder, University of Georgia forestry specialist.

Trees can be damaged in a variety of ways during the construction process. Construction equipment can injure the above ground part of a tree by breaking branches or tearing bark and wounding the trunk. Also, 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 the fine roots of a tree that absorb water and minerals are in the upper 6-12 inches of soil. Piling soil over a root system or increasing a soil grade can smother roots. Heavy equipment used in construction compacts the soil, which can dramatically reduce oxygen levels essential to growth and function of the roots.

The 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 one foot of space from the trunk for each inch of trunk diameter.

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

Your trees will require several years to adjust to the shock and environmental changes induced during construction. Post-construction trees are more susceptible to disease and insect infestation. By talking with an arborist, you can create a plan for continued maintenance during this critical time. By monitoring your trees, and having them periodically evaluated, you can greatly improve the health of your wooded areas.

By hiring a professional arborist early in the planning stage, many of the trees on your property can be protected. An arborist can assess the trees on your property, determine which are healthy and structurally sound and suggest measures to preserve and protect them. A list of International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborists, as well as other helpful information may be obtained by calling the ISA at (217) 355-9411 or visiting

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