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Preventing Tree Damage during Construction or Landscape Renovation Projects

Maureen Sexsmith-West

ISA Certified Arborist, PR4600A

All too often, the most important aspect of the project is over looked – preservation of existing trees and shrubs BEFOREwork begins. Many property owners fail to consider the potential damage that can be done to trees during construction projects. Injuries such as broken branches and wounds to tree trunks are obvious. The damage to a tree’s root systems can result in tree failure or death.

Contractors may be well versed in construction building codes for driveway installations or building additions. Roofers need clear, safe access to install shingles. Even the best-intentioned DIY’er, who has read stacks of books from the library, lacks the professional training combined with years of experience that your local Certified Arborist can offer when it comes to tree health care.

Begin by asking these key questions. Will my project:

  1. require excavating the area between the trunk and drip line?

  2. result in interrupted irrigation?

  3. involve movement of vehicles over the roots?

  4. involve trenching for pipes or utilities?

  5. involve the installation of materials such as concrete, asphalt, gravel or brick?

  6. require pruning or removals to facilitate construction or equipment access?

  7. require stockpiling of construction materials on site?

If you can answer yes to even one, you should contact a Certified Arborist before any work begins.


Random pruning and leaving stubs creates an unsightly tree that is open the insect and disease problems. NEVER TOP YOUR TREE. Some trees have regulated pruning dates or ‘best’ seasons. In some cases, municipalities have tree protection by-laws. They can include restrictions when working around municipal trees, permits may be required when considering removal of certain species, set backs and so on. Your Certified Arborist should be knowledgeable on local laws and regulations.

Changes in grade can either expose the roots causing them to dry out or end up buried below the available oxygen. On an established tree – roots have developed at the optimum depth. Any changes of soil depth can have devastating consequences for your tree.

Injury or removal of roots can starve your tree. Since these are essential to the movement of water and nutrients throughout the tree, disruption to the flow is like having a leaky or burst water pipe. The pressure drops or flow stops altogether starving all or part of the tree.

Soil Compaction. Roots need oxygen to function and grow. The weight of excavators, haul trucks or repeat traffic, and stockpiled construction materials can force air pockets out of the soil. In extreme cases, soil can become as hard as concrete. Roots are likely to die – branches and leaves along with them.

Avoid creating planting sites that restrict health root growth: Cement borders and curbs can significantly restrict normal root development. As seen in this photo – the roots could not expand outside the framework. The roots became damaged by the rough surfaces, absorbed elements from the concrete, which resulted in significant pH variations, and an unstable anchoring system from encircling root growth.


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