Question: A big reason I chose to live in North Arlington and pay the premium that comes with it is because most of the neighborhoods were full of large, mature trees.
I’ve watched over the last 5-10 years as so many beautiful trees have been removed to make room for large new homes, only to be replaced by small trees that don’t survive or aren’t fit for this area. What can we do to educate homeowners about the value trees have in the community and on home values?
Answer: Thank you so much for this question, especially on the heals of a terrific study on Arlington’s tree canopy. It’s one that I don’t think gets nearly enough attention from homeowners, my colleagues in the real estate industry and local government.
The loss of our tree canopy resulting from reckless tree removal by builders who are more concerned with maximizing profit on a single lot than promoting long-term growth of our communities is a major problem for Arlington. In 2017, I wrote an article highlighting the financial benefits to developers who actively work to keep the existing mature trees on a lot so if we can show both short-term and long-term benefits to builders and developers, what do we do?
Don’t Wait On Local Government
For starters, we can’t rely on government policy, but need to work within our communities at a Civic Association level to promote education and understanding. Not every homeowner is concerned about the tree canopy, but everybody is concerned about the long-term value of their home, so we need to educate everybody that the two are not mutually exclusive.
We are never going to stop the replacement of old homes with new ones, but we can support builders who take steps towards tree preservation and discourage residents from working with builders who have no regard for our neighborhoods.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve worked with some fantastic Civic Associations (residents of Williamsburg should be proud of their community leaders!) and the Arlingtonians For A Clean Environment to brainstorm ways to protect our tree canopy and I encourage anybody who has an interest to get involved.
An Education For Homeowners and Builders
I will continue this discussion through my column on ARLnow until we see progress. I hope that readers with an interest in getting involved can share ideas and connect via the comments section.
To kick things off, I want to introduce Heath Baumann, an ISA Certified Arborist with Bartlett Tree Experts, to provide education for homeowners and builders on tree preservation, tree replacement and tree care. Take it away Heath…
One of the most overlooked assets on a property is often the trees.
Trees not only improve quality of life with shade and beauty, mature trees can affect property value. As Northern Virginia continues to infill and urbanize, trees will face greater amounts of environmental stresses. Larger homes, less permeable surface area, soil compaction and heat island effects can stress both new and mature trees in your landscape.
Your home is comprised of multiple systems such as HVAC, plumbing and electrical. It helps to think of trees in the same manner. Routine maintenance performed by a licensed professional is affordable and extends the life of your trees.
Tree Preservation During Construction
Constructions projects can severely affect the health of trees. Physical stability, water and nutrient collection are vital functions of the root system. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to preserving trees during construction projects:
- Develop a Tree Preservation Plan. Contractors and Consulting Arborists can develop this during the planning phase of your project.
- Avoid intrusion into the critical root zone. Create a physical barrier with construction fencing to reduce soil compaction and physical damage to the tree by heavy equipment.
- Have a licensed tree care provider perform any required root pruning.
- Develop a tree care plan for affected trees. Certified Arborists can help the tree compensate for root loss and stress from construction activities.
- Do not use heavy equipment to cut roots. Heavy equipment will cause extensive damage and compact the soil.
- Do not allow construction materials, debris or chemicals to be stored around trees. Tree preservation zones are enticing areas for temporary storage. Soil compaction, chemical runoff and physical damage are all possible.
- Do not use construction tools to perform pruning. Arborists’ tools are designed to make proper cuts reducing the impact on trees.
Replacing or Planting New Trees After Construction
Planting a tree is a wonderful feeling. A relatively simple activity can turn into a lifetime of enjoyment and an investment for future generations. The best part about planting trees is that nearly everyone is capable of doing it. It generally only requires a few tools that are available at your local hardware store or garden center. A few basic guidelines will help improve our success when replacing removed trees or adding to your landscape.
- Purchase your trees from a respected nursery or garden center. These businesses offer warranties, have higher quality nursery stock and have knowledgeable staff that can help you make the right selection.
- Select the right tree for the location. Height, spread, shade tolerance and growth rate are all things to consider. A full sun tree will not thrive in an already shady landscape and vice versa.
- Have your soil tested. The soil’s pH affects the nutrient availability for a tree. The Virginia Tech extension service and certified tree care companies can perform soil tests for a nominal fee. Use this information to select the tree or to build a soil care program with your tree care company.
- Dig the correct hole. The hole for your tree should be 3 times as wide as the root ball. If possible, rototill an area 5 times the root ball to help root production. The bottom of the hole should remain intact.
- Have your trees structurally pruned. Some tree species have growth tendencies that can lead to structural failure or root issues. An ISA Certified Arborist can show you how a few well-place structural pruning cuts can help your tree develop its ideal form.
- Do not plant trees too deep. This is the most common mistake I see on landscapes. Ideally, the transition zone between the trunk and the roots should be slightly above soil grade.
- Do not mound mulch. Mulch mounds, along with deep planting, can cause the roots to encircle the trunk of the tree forming a tourniquet that strangles the tree.
- Do not leave the tree in the container. If the tree is in plastic container, remove the tree and loosen the soil and roots before planting. If the tree is in a wire encased burlap bundle, cut away the wire basket and remove the burlap from the sides of the root ball after placing it in the hole.
- Do not overwater your tree. Infrequent, slow saturations with a soaker hose will help good root development. Frequent shallow watering will develop shallow, unstable roots. Constant soil saturation will lead to root diseases. If the soil at finger depth (4 inches) is dry, it is time to water.
Tree Care Basics
The majority of my clients are established homeowners who are concerned about the health of their trees. Sometimes it is a large, prominent oak or a bright, flowering ornamental tree. Here a few simple Do’s and Don’ts that home owners can follow to help their trees:
- Keep a mulch ring around the tree. This aides in temperature and moisture regulation while adding organic matter to the soil.
- When watering use a soaker hose for infrequent, heavy saturations. This will ensure adequate soil moisture and help in root development.
- Routinely look at your trees. The earlier an issue is caught, the better the odds of helping the tree.
- Consult a professional. Certified arborists can work with you to develop a tree care plan based on your needs and budget.
- Do not allow mulch to mound up at the base of the tree. Mulch can hold moisture against the trunk that can cause decay, increase stress and invite pests.
- Avoid heavy application of lime or other lawn products. Lime and other lawn produces can affect the soil, making it unsuitable for trees.
- Do not park or drive your vehicle over the root zone. This can lead to soil compaction.
- Avoid damaging the tree with mowers and string trimmers.
- Avoid employing a non-certified person or company to perform tree care. Improper pruning can lead to tree mortality and expose you to risks.
Even in ideal conditions, pests and diseases can attack trees. Fortunately, treatments exist for many of the common maladies in our area. If you are concerned about a tree, always contact an ISA Certified Arborist for a consultation.
Heath Baumann is an ISA Certified Arborist with Bartlett Tree Experts. If you wish to schedule a consultation with a Bartlett Arborist Representative, please call (703)550-6900.