Saturday, September 8, 2012

Killing Trees

Few people want to actually “kill” trees. Even those who cut timber count on some of them to sprout back to make new trees. About the only folks I know who want to actually kill trees are farmers clearing cropland or investors putting in golf courses. Even then, most want to save a few for appearance’s sake. And so it is with many homebuilders these days, whether that home is being built, or contracted out, either by the owner or a speculator. Most folks prefer having at least a few trees around. In fact, real estate agencies have learned that your home is worth an additional $400 for each mature tree in the lawn.

The problem is that most people seek to preserve trees without knowing anything about them. As a result, they dig ditches right through major roots, thus cutting off nutrient flow to the tree and physically destabilizing it. The next major windstorm coming from that side of the tree may then take the tree over. They also bulldoze the top few inches of soil to “landscape” the lawn, cutting and mangling the tiny feeder roots that gather water and nutrients for the tree. Trees, like animals, eventually die without adequate food and water. The actual death of the tree is often several years down the road, though. First, the very apex of the tree may die—not surprising, since it’s the part farthest from the ground. Then, individual branches start dying. They’re usually scattered around the tree, and are simply evidence of the tree trying to prune itself to bring the top in proportion to what the remaining roots can support. Sometimes the tree survives, usually as a lesser specimen than it once was. More often, the tree remains in a weakened condition and succumbs to some eventual drought, late freeze or insect infestation. Since these tree deaths are often several years after the initial damage, no connection is made by the home-owner, especially if he/she purchased the home already completed.

What can be done? Well, that depends on your priorities. If you want a thick sod everywhere, cut the trees and bulldoze to your heart’s content. Grass doesn’t grow well under most trees anyway. However, if you want trees, be a little more tolerant of slight irregularities in the surface of the lawn. That way, you won’t be so tempted to shave off the high spots and kill feeder roots. If you have more irregularities than you feel that you just can live with, you still have a couple options. Both involve filling the low places with topsoil, NOT knocking down the high spots. The first is to use a farm tractor with a front-end loader and a rear blade to move the new soil and smooth it. Do NOT use a skid-steer piece of equipment as it will compact the soil too much. The second method is the oldest, the best, and the most expensive (if you’re paying someone else to do it)—hand labor with wheel barrows and shovels. Yes, such things are still done, but only rarely.

Things to consider about trees are the added value to your home, the value to wildlife, shade for your lawn, and the fact that one full-size tree has the cooling effect for your home site of four large whole-house air-conditioners. To illustrate the latter point, the guru went to what used to be called Concord College, here in West Virginia. Its campus was then covered with beautiful old oak trees. A few years later, some different folks were running the place and they committed wholesale slaughter against the oaks, wiping them from the campus. The barren-looking campus of sod, concrete and masonry then cost FOUR TIMES as much to air-condition. He rightly felt that they got what they deserved. You’d probably feel the same if you knew the whole story.

Remember this, since one thing leads almost invariably to another, you’ve probably lost your trees the moment a bulldozer first touches your property. © 2012


Phillip said...

Good post, very informative and useful.

Susie Swanson said...

I agree Gorges..To much bulldozing going on..

Gorges Smythe said...

Thanks, Phillip.

What a wise person you are to agree with me, Susie! ;-)