Home Construction And Gardens: Tips On Protecting Plants During Construction


By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

As you plan that new addition, rebuilt garage or any other building project, it is important to plan how to protect plants during construction. Trees and other plants can have damage occur due to root injury, heavy machinery compaction, slope changes, and many other potential by-products of changing topography. Protecting plants during construction is as important as planning with your architect or contractor, if you hope to preserve your landscape and minimize harm to all forms of life on your property. Start with a few of our cues and tips to shield the wild and ornamental flora in your garden.

Effects of Home Construction and Gardens

Every plant in the garden has the potential to become injured during construction. While plants becoming trampled or simply being run over are obvious causes, roots, stems and branches of trees are also at risk. Simply allowing the construction crew to run rough shod over the property can cause any amount of damage and even plant death. Avoiding construction damage to plants ensures continued ecosystem balance and preserves the appearance of the property. Many simple methods can help make home construction and gardens complement each other instead of cause destruction.

New home construction is one of the more damaging to existing plants. Large machinery is needed to excavate a foundation or basement and roads need to be built and established to accommodate vehicles. Piles of soil placed over plant roots can limit their ability to get water, nutrients and air.

Reducing trees on a lot to provide for construction space exposes the remaining plants to winds while they are also jarred by heavy vibrations from machinery. Often, construction crews randomly prune trees to help them get the machinery into a site, which can cause weak plants and unstable canopies.

The off gases and chemicals used in many construction projects can also affect plant health. Simply bulldozing over a site smashes plants, uproots flora and rips out entire bushes and shrubs.

How to Protect Plants during Construction

Pruning correctly and precisely can protect many plants. This may extend to more than removing woody material and may include root pruning. Often, an arborist is needed to perform initial maintenance correctly. In some cases, the entire tree or plant needs to be temporarily moved to protect it from machinery and provide a clear path for workers.

Smaller plants can often be dug up and the roots wrapped in burlap that is kept moist for many weeks. Larger plants may require professional help and should be heeled into prepared soil until reinstallation. For larger specimens, it is often better to plan around the plant or put up fencing and clearly marked posts. This simple method can help in avoiding construction damage to plants without the necessity of moving and reinstalling them.

Sometimes, it is as simple as tying back vines and errant branches that might be exposed to damage. Vines that self-attach should be cut back, as they won’t reattach once the sticky “fingers” are removed. Don’t worry, vigorous vines like English Ivy, Creeping Fig and Boston Ivy will quickly reestablish themselves when construction is over.

Protecting plants during construction may also be accomplished by covering them. This can prevent chemicals, tar, paint and other common but toxic construction materials from contacting the plant. Sheets or other lightweight cloth are sufficient and allow some light and air to enter. In the case of delicate plants, make a scaffold around the specimen to prevent the cloth from crushing foliage and stems.

In all cases, remember to water during construction, especially plants that have been moved or are in danger of other stresses.

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How to Protect Plants from the Cold

This article was co-authored by Andrew Carberry, MPH. Andrew Carberry has been working in food systems since 2008. He has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition and Public Health Planning and Administration from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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If your weather is a bit too cold or your plants are a bit too tender, you'll need to help your garden through the winter. It all depends on how vulnerable the plants are, how cold the weather is, the length of the cold season and how much energy and trouble you want to spend. For some combinations of climates and plants, no amount of extra care will keep them growing, but in many cases, a bit of extra care can bridge the gap. You can also use these techniques to extend the growing season, letting you grow vegetables earlier in the spring or later into the fall.


Rimol Blog

1. Mulch, for so many reasons

Direct sunlight can wreak havoc on your plants, but mulch – especially reflective kinds such as dry grass clippings – can be a plant-saver. It also reduces maintenance chores, saves water by retaining water and reducing evaporation, and encourages vigorous plant growth. This means less watering for you and happier, healthier roots. And the best part is that savvy gardeners can find everything they need for a good mulch without ever spending a dime. Other mulching options include straw, alfalfa, newspaper, black plastic sheeting, and even seaweed. Here is a helpful list of mulch variations that can be used for all temperatures and conditions.

2. Early morning watering

Drinking water first thing in the morning has been shown to provide a range of health benefits for us. And the same goes for our plants. Heat waves can quickly pull the moisture right out of soil and dehydrate shallow roots. Watering early in the morning ensures that roots are amply hydrated before the oppressive heat of the day begins. This also prevents heat stress, which is basically sunburn for your plants that occurs when the sun gets to its apex and plants' leaves are just too brittle to fight off the sun. A second watering is never a bad idea if just one isn’t doing enough. And don’t worry if you’ve been lead to believe that mid-day watering will damage your plants, science says that’s just not true.

3. Shade cloth and row covers

Another way to prevent heat stress and protect your crops from the direct sunlight is a shade cloth or row cover. There’s a range of options here but Rimol offers a variety of shade structure options that have been vetted by gardening professionals. Just make sure your garden can still breathe and grow. If you cover plants too closely, helpful insects such as bees won’t be able to work their magic and heat will get trapped and defeat the purpose of shading in the first place.

4. Let established plants take transplants under their wing

An alternative to shade cloths or row covers is to plant transplants under the cover of stronger plants with established root systems. To return to the human/plant analogy, heat waves hit the youngest and oldest among us the hardest. This anecdote works just as well for plants. At least partial shading will go a long way to ensuring young plants don’t get scorched by direct sunlight. But make sure that the transplant still gets partial sunlight as permanent shade is just as deadly for a young transplant.

5. Plant seeds slightly deeper

If you get a late start to putting down seeds or live in a place that is warm year-round, plant seeds a bit deeper than you normally would. In the springtime, early morning and night temperatures are dramatically cooler than daytime temperatures but the temperature gap narrows during the dog days of summer. Warm temperatures and direct sunlight can dehydrate topsoil in no time. Planting a seed an extra inch or two deeper will allow the root systems to avoid being choked and dried out if this occurs.

Those first warm days of spring are a welcomed sight (and feel) for us gardeners. But gardening in the dead heat of summer can be a balancing act. With these tips, you can recognize and avoid heat stress in your plants and keep them safe, healthy, and happy. And remember, you’re also at the mercy of the sun. It is wise to avoid strenuous outdoor work when both the temperature and the humidity are high. As a rule, when the two numbers added together equal more than 160, stay indoors during the middle of the day.

Your turn: Did we miss any useful heat wave gardening tips? If so, don’t hold back. Share the wealth and comment your helpful tricks below!


Tree Protection During Construction

Tree protection during construction is extremely important because the damage that occurs during this process is irreversible. Trees, especially their critical root zones, are also very easily damaged by construction.

When planning your new deck, patio, porch, or addition most people are focused on the look of the finished project but few ever think about how their trees will be affected. Many homeowners think because the construction is happening on the other side of the yard or far away from the tree that the tree is safe. Unfortunately, they couldn’t be more wrong. Because a tree’s critical root zone extends to or past their canopy tree, construction on one side of the yard can kill a tree on the other side.

In order to prevent root damage, soil compaction, and trunk injuries, you need to invest in a Tree Protection Plan (also known as Tree Preservation Plan & Tree Conservation Plan) before you start renovations.

Laws About Tree Protection:

Fairfax County and Arlington County both require a tree protection plan for anyone engaging in land disturbing activities in the county. For homeowners, they will usually require this plan if they are doing major hardscape/landscape changes or major renovations such as an addition. You will need to hire a professional, such as a Certified Arborist, to design this plan and submit it to the County.

Fairfax County’s Tree Conservation Plan: Fairfax County refers to their tree protection ordinance/plan as a Tree Conservation Plan. More information can be found here: http://fairfaxcounty.elaws.us/code/coor_apxid44897_ch122

Arlington County’s Tree Preservation Plan: Arlington County refers to their tree protection ordinance/plan as a Tree Preservation Plan. More information can be found here: https://environment.arlingtonva.us/trees/support-trees/specimen-trees/tree-preservation-ordinance/

Construction Damage To Trunk of Tree

Why Should I Care About Tree Damage?

  • When a tree is severely damaged it will die and you will eventually have to remove the tree.
  • Tree removal is expensive and can cost more than the preservation plan to save the tree.
  • A mature healthy tree can raise property values by 10%
  • Higher Energy Costs: The shade and windshield provided by a tree can reduce heating & cooling costs up to 15%
  • Fairfax County and other surrounding counties have laws that require you obtain a tree protection plan (tree preservation plan) before performing certain types of construction. If you don’t obtain this and damage the trees you could be facing fines from your county.

How Can I Prevent Damage?

Invest in a Tree Protection Plan (Tree Preservation Plan). These plans typically consist of 3 stages to give your tree the best chance of survival.

First Stage: Prep your trees for the construction.
Second Stage: Limit the amount of damage and stressors they will encounter during construction.
Third Stage: Provide aftercare that will help your tree recover from the stress of construction.

Not every tree will survive construction. If a tree has existing health issues it may have a low chance of survival, even if it has a tree protection plan. In these situations, an Arborist may recommend removing the tree instead. A Certified Arborist will be able to walk you through this process and explain the reasoning behind every step in the plan.


Plants

Use regionally appropriate, low water-using and native plants.

Once established, these plants require little water beyond normal rainfall. Also, because native plants are adapted to local soils and climatic conditions, they rarely require the addition of fertilizer and are more resistant to pests and diseases than are other species. Be careful when selecting exotic species, as some may be invasive, which may require more water and could displace native plants. State affiliates of Plant Something Exitmay be able to point you in the direction of nurseries in your state who can assist you on plant selection and provide other advice.

If your landscape includes turfgrass, place it strategically in areas where it will have a practical function, and consider using a low-water-use turfgrass suited to grow in your local climate to provide a beautiful lawn that can save water. Our Turfgrass and Water Efficiency page provides information on types of turfgrass and tips on how to maintain a healthy lawn.

Recognize site conditions and plant appropriately.

Areas of the same site may vary significantly in soil type or exposure to sun and wind, as well as evaporation rates and moisture levels. Placing plants that prefer shade in open sun will affect their ability to thrive. Be mindful of a site's exposure to the elements and choose plants that will thrive in the site's conditions.

Group similar plants together for irrigation.

Grouping vegetation with similar watering needs into specific "hydrozones" reduces water use and protects the plants from both underwatering and overwatering by allowing you to water to each zone's specific needs. For example, turf areas and shrub areas should always be separated into different hydrozones because of their differing water needs.

Tips for starting new plants.

When trees and shrubs are planted, they will normally require irrigation during the establishment period. Once the plants have taken root, irrigation can be reduced and or eliminated. It is also common to surround the plant with a berm that holds the water at the base of the plant, preventing it from flowing away.

Turfgrass sod, plugs, or sprigs are mature plants that are directly planted into the landscape and establish quickly. The quick establishment period is a benefit to using sod, although the cost of installation can be higher than using seed. Seeding the landscape has a lower cost but could take longer to establish. Additional considerations related to turfgrass are on the Turfgrass and Water Efficiency page.


Corrective Steps to Take After a Fill Was Made

If a fill has been in place long enough for visual symptoms of tree deterioration to occur, little can be done to save the tree. In cases where the fill has been made recently or where no serious damage has occurred, some corrective action can be taken.

If the increase is less than 12 inches, it is possible to remove soil around the tree trunk down to the original soil level for a radius of 2 feet beyond the trunk. A dry well should be installed around the trunk to hold the fill soil in place. Starting about two feet out from the dry well, holes should be drilled or dug every 2 feet beneath the branch spread. A 6-inch plastic pipe should be inserted and then filled with coarse gravel to allow free air and gas exchange in the root zone. This will usually suffice for a shallow fill.

Where deeper fills have been made, it will be necessary to install a pipe and gravel aeration system as described previously. The soil around the tree trunk should be excavated to the original grade with radial trenches extending to the outer limits of the branches. A well should be constructed around the trunk to keep back the soil. The radical trenches should be joined with a circular trench located at the dip line of the branches. The depth of the trenches should be dug to the original grade line and the system should slope sufficiently to provide good drainage away from the tree trunk. In order to carry off surplus moisture, it may be necessary to extend the radial line on the down hill side to a natural drain or into a sump or cistern. A 4-inch perforated plastic pipe aeration system should be installed and covered with gravel before replacing the soil back to the new grade line. The installation will be identical to that described previously, except the installation will have been made after the fill was installed.

Because there can be no assurance that a tree will recover from the damage already done, careful consideration must be given to the value of the tree in the landscape before expensive corrective measures are undertaken. The tree would have to be extremely attractive, valuable or have significant historical value to justify the expense of these corrective measures since success is not assured.

The preventive measures outlined in this publication will in most cases insure the continued life and usefulness of the tree (Figure 6). The decision the property owner must make after evaluating the aesthetic or landscape value of the tree and the cost of installation is whether the tree is worth the cost and effort involved.

The information given herein is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service is implied.

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.


Often when grade changes are made the terrain is altered, and there may be a change in how water drains from the land. If too much water drains into a wooded site, trees in that area may eventually die from lack of oxygen. It may be necessary to build a drainage system to maintain the previous amount of moisture that provided natural growing conditions for the existing trees. If sites are deprived of water, irrigation may be necessary to maintain existing trees.

Watch for equipment damage to limbs and trunks, and repair promptly. Chemicals and other products that are often dumped on a construction site can change the soil chemistry, weakening and oftentimes killing trees on the property. To prevent adverse effects on construction site soils:

  • Spread heavy plastic tarp where concrete is to be mixed or sheet rock will be cut. These materials raise the pH, causing alkaline soils.
  • Do not clean paintbrushes and tools over tree roots.
  • Dispose of chemical wastes (paint thinner, oil, etc.) properly. Do not drain these wastes on site.

Para obtener la versión en español de esta hoja informativa, consulte HGIC 1002S, ¿Cómo Proteger los Árboles Durante la Construcción?

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at [email protected] or 1-888-656-9988.

Author(s)

Debbie Shaughnessy, Former HGIC Information Specialist, Clemson University
Bob Polomski, PhD, Associate Extension Specialist, Clemson University

This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.


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