One of my absolute favorite trees is the Red Oak. A mature Red Oak is most often what we envision when we think of a large mature tree. The problem is time; plant a Red Oak today and your great-grandchildren will be sitting under it about one hundred years from now. Fortunately, an immature example is still desirable for its height and foliage but it won't be that "centerpiece" for many years. Is it worth planting an oak or sycamore? Absolutely, but you're pleasure will be increased through the additional planting of some smaller, quicker growing trees and a few bright, fast growing ornamentals. These smaller trees will fill the void while your majestic tree grows and provide build contrast and size perspective as your big tree moves toward adolescence.
Mapping your tree planting is extremely important. Concrete is a major concern. Species, soil, nutrients, and water supply shape root growth. In a fight between a medium-sized tree and a sidewalk, the sidewalk will lose. Also, like animals, trees will struggle for dominance. Trees must be planted as if they were fully grown. I know that sounds remarkably obvious (though hopefully not patronizing) but the truth is most people can't bring themselves to allow the planting distances necessary for most trees. It is hard to imagine that a wobbly stick planted in your backyard today can damage your house's foundation in twenty years. Generally speaking, many trees need about 6' from concrete, 10' from foundations and 20' from power lines. Some little ornamentals are fine near concrete. On the other hand, some big trees, like the Red Oak have canopies that can shade an entire house and a good portion of the front and backyards. Ask a certified arborist before you plant. Nothing is as frustrating and disappointing to the home gardener as losing a young tree due to bad planning.
Few things can materially increase the value of a residential property like trees. Mastering your trees is a source of lasting enjoyment with long-lasting value. Plot before you plant.
Very recently, I gave an estimate to a customer who had just purchased a home. The customer requested the estimate because she thought a large tree in her small yard didn't look quite right. Unfortunately, she was correct; the tree had major decay and structural problems. The customer had inquired about the tree prior to purchasing the property. The seller's agent claimed to have no knowledge of any problems with the tree and I'm sure that was truly the case. Nonetheless, the tree now has to be removed at the homeowner's expense. Whether she has any recourse against the seller remains to be seen but the immediate expense and danger are presently those of the new homeowner.
Inheriting other people's tree problems is fairly common in home buying. Agents, sellers, and buyers typically don't have the knowledge to inspect trees. Oddly, a roof has to be inspected for leaks to satisfy a mortgage company but no inspection is required for the thing that can crush the roof and kill the occupants.
If you're considering a home purchase that involves nearby trees, contact an arborist. For about $150 you can have a tree inspected prior to purchase. The cost savings could reach into the thousands. By getting an arborist report prior to purchase you may be able to negotiate with the seller for any necessary tree work. If no work is required, you'll have some peace of mind for very little expense. Remember, when homeowners arrive at the decision to sell they tend to stop taking care of their trees.
Think before you buy.
Many homeowners suffer from the problems caused by encroaching tree roots. Roots can displace sidewalks to earth quake levels. Worse, they can lift the foundation of a house. Trees are the largest living things on the planet and I suppose they're probably the strongest. We often receive calls from customers who were shocked to find that their municipality holds them accountable for a broken sidewalk caused by a city owned tree. In some cases, a homeowner will be held accountable for sidewalk damage by their own tree but not be permitted to remove the offending the tree. Tree removal may require your jurisdiction's consent depending on size and type. The point is, a wandering tree root can cost you a great deal of money and increase your civil liability.
So why not cut them? Some trees permit the removal of certain roots; others will not. Trees vary by genus as well as individual. Cutting a root may kill a tree fairly quickly. For instance, you may chop a root to prevent further damage to your driveway and the next year be faced with the cost of a crane removal of the entire tree which then threatens to fall on your house. In that case, it may have been wiser to give the tree 10" of driveway. A certified arborist can tell you (without cost) whether your tree needs removal or can withstand loss of a root. In some cases, long term root growth can be influenced by the supply of water and nutrients. In all cases, the sooner the problem is addressed the better the results. Waiting to deal with a large root until it has lifted your garage four inches is not a prudent course of action. Look at your roots now, they're giving you clues on where they intend to grow.
If you're planning to live in your house for many years and you want to plant a good-sized tree, please call the office and we'll happy to recommend planting distances to minimize the likelihood of your tree ever causing structural damage. In the meantime, please don't cut roots.
Stacy W. Barker
Stacy is the owner of Bud's