Protecting and Preserving Trees
A new sales-manager at one of our communities routinely asked prospects after a tour what they liked. The number one answer: The trees! We all know the look of communities, usually older, that have saved a lot of specimen trees. They have a special feeling, hard to describe yet unmistakable. Preserving large oak trees has become the standard for every Prospectus project. We start by designing the roads around major specimens. Wherever possible, we design public spaces around trees. Once they are located within the rights-of-way, parks or public spaces they become the responsibility of the HOA (homeowner association) and become permanently protected. Where possible we locate property lines directly through trees so future neighbors have to agree on removal.
Trees most lethal adversaries are individuals and utility companies. Some individuals just don’t like trees. They buy into a community with lots of preserved trees and immediately start cutting down trees. We help draft ‘covenants and restrictions’ that require permission to remove trees over a certain diameter and establish replanting penalties for any tree that is cut or dies. It can cost over a thousand dollars to plant a 12-foot to 15-foot high live oak. Having to replace several trees can be costly and word will spread throughout the community. We can’t save them all however, these steps can help.
The mindset of the utility company is a far greater danger to large trees during the community’s development. They want everything cleared to make easy access for their crews. When you look at a new community and see all the trees removed from the rights-of-way, you ask yourself: “Why did they cut down all the trees? So they can plat new ones?” This is your utility company at work. They tell developers to clear the rights-of-way or they wont install power, water or sewer systems. Few developer have the willpower to fight.
We use two rules that can’t be violated by anyone: 1) only dig on one side of a root-ball, 2) remove some canopy after removing a large part of the root-ball. Trees live in harmony. There is a leaf for every hair-like root. If a large part of the root is destroyed (25% – 30% or more), there will not be sufficient water and nutrition for all the leaves. The tree will become stressed; it will stop growing and its health will decline. Trimming the tree can help restore balance. However, the best solution is not to allow the destruction in the first place. Make contractors keep 5 or 10 feet away from the root-ball. If that is not possible, tell them to get off the backhoe and make them dig by hand. Hand digging with a shovel can preserve large roots which may extend several feet to form large root clusters. Typically a pipe is all that needs to be installed and often it can be inserted below or between large roots. Force them to cut large roots that have to be removed with a saw. Smaller roots can be cut with a machete or shovel. Don’t let them use a backhoe to tear the roots. Explain the rules before you hire them; they are usually too eager for the business to object. After they are hired, have a job-site meeting and explain the rules again. Mark and show them each tree they are expected to preserve.
We have had amazing success building curbs, sidewalks and roads right next to very large oaks (as these photos show.) With the proper mindset and the willingness to stand guard, you can too. The duration of the construction process is a limited time. After its done, you can admire the preserved tree forever. So will everyone in the community. Remember our prospect’s most frequent answer to the sales-manager question about what they liked: The trees! Trees may also help boost your sales.