Preserving Your Trees

Watch out for some things you may not expect

It's hard to count the number of times we've seen homeowners harm trees when they actually thought they were preserving them. In most cases, this occurs during new home construction when soil excavation and final grading are done.

Most trees are very sensitive to having much soil fill placed over top of their existing root systems. Since it's necessary for roots to "breathe" by exchanging gases, it doesn't take very much soil fill to cause severe damage and eventually destroy a tree. Trees are also damaged when soil is piled against the tree trunk. Therefore, it's best to maintain the original grade around existing trees if you intend to preserve them.

soil fill against a tree trunk
Soil fill piled up against a tree trunk

soil fill suffocating spruce roots
Soil fill covers half of these tree's root systems.
Carelessness also led to nicked-up tree trunks.

crown dieback due to root damage
Crown dieback caused by construction
damage to the root system several years
earlier. This is always a bad sign.

Soil compaction in tree root zones

The continuous movement of heavy equipment over the root zone of a tree can also cause irreparable damage to a tree, so the entire root zone (beyond the branch tips) should be fenced off during construction activities. If it's necessary to make any grade changes in the area of a tree, special steps must be taken to ensure the tree's survival. See the roots webpage for more information.


Many people think of a tree's trunk as wood that can't be damaged, but always remember the living tissue that lies just beneath the outer tree bark. This area of active growth, known as the phloem ('flow-em'), should always be protected from nicks and scrapes. It's common to see bark damage from excavating equipment, and these trunk wounds provide open entryways for destructive pathogens. In that regard, they aren't much different than a person having an open wound on his or her arm. See the bark webpage for more information on trunk wounds, including diagrams.

trunk wound - loose bark
Major gash in this tree trunk could cause decline
and death, especially when combined with other
construction damage to the root zone


Red Maple problems

Spider mites on Hemlocks

Snow damage to trees


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