Milwaukee/NARI Offers Tips for Your LandscapeDuring a Remodeling Project

June 22, 2012

You may be eagerly anticipating your home remodeling project and you’ve done the prep work – clearing out the furniture, moving breakables to a safer place, planning how meals will be prepared and dishes washed, enlisting friends to help with child care, maybe even planning a night or two at a hotel. What’s left? The answer is your landscaping.

Just as fragile as the heirloom vase you’ve carefully packed away, landscaping needs to be protected during a remodel. Consider that there will be many tradesmen in and out of the house, delivery trucks, construction equipment, and of course, a dumpster. With construction, you can expect your plantings and particularly the soil to be impacted adversely if they are in the line of activity.

To make sure you are adequately protecting that 100-year-old oak or the lilac bush that came from grandma’s house, landscape contractors who are members of the Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council Inc., the area’s leading home improvement and remodeling industry resource for more than 50 years, recommend a pre-construction consultation with a landscape specialist as well as your remodeling contractor.

“In most cases, the contractor or the homeowner doesn’t think about protection until after the damage is done,” said Vance Barnes, Registered Landscape Architect, David J. Frank Landscape Contracting Inc. “It’s something everybody needs to think about up front. Have a discussion with your contractor. Ask if the landscaping, and if not, what are the provisions for restoring it.

“The cost of renovating a landscape can surprise people,” Barnes said. “It’s a good idea to know what that is going to be and put it in as a line item in the project budget. Just waiting until the end is not the best situation for anybody.”

The biggest issue with trees and grass is soil compaction from heavy equipment driving over it and from storage of materials such as dirt from excavation, lumber, shingles, and other building supplies. Compaction displaces the air space in the soil that is home to the root system, and without that oxygen, the roots will die.

“The first time you drive over that root system, probably 60 to 70 percent of soil compaction takes place,” said Bob Gansemer, ISA Certified Arborist, Buckley Tree Service.

Gansemer suggests working with the contractor ahead of time to minimize the area where equipment will be driven and designate a staging area for material storage.

Utilizing construction fencing to define boundaries is an option. Fencing should be placed not only around the trunk of the tree, but extending outward to at least beyond the drip line of the tree. Tree roots go well beyond the drip line, as much as three to five times the height of the tree, but this will help. A six-inch layer of wood chips can also be placed to cushion the soil and reduce some of the compaction.

An alternative is to dig up a tree or shrubs and have them moved to another location while construction is underway.

“We can take them to a temporary holding area, mulch them, and hold them until the project is done,” Barnes said. “With a 96-inch diameter spade, we can move a pretty good size tree without it knowing its being moved. We are getting a significant amount of feeder roots, which are in the first 12 inches of the topsoil. Because we are taking about eight feet of soil with it, we are getting enough to keep the tree alive. It may suffer, it may go through some shock, but within a couple of years it will be fine. We can do that with pines, too.”

With remodeling construction, there are often grade changes, trenching and digging that could damage trees and shrubs. Grade changes of only a few inches can damage plants. One of the effects can be the natural drainage pattern, giving plants or trees too much water, or too little. “Monitoring is important,” Gansemer said. “We have a lot of heavy clay soil that retains moisture, so if you water every day you could be overwatering and causing problems. Check your plants every day. Stick your hand into the soil or pull out a plug. If it’s dry and crumbly, it’s time to water.”

Removal of trees in wooded lots can also have undesirable effect on those remaining. Before being cleared for development, the trees were genetically designed to grow in a group. Now a woodland edge has been created where those remaining trees are fully exposed to sun or wind, resulting in die-back or uprooting.

“If you live in a wooded lot, it’s natural to want to keep as many trees as you can, but you have to keep in mind you are changing the trees’ environment,” Gansemer said. “If there are trees that will be impacted, get an arborist involved up front to make recommendations to help minimize the impact on the trees and help them survive the construction process.

“It is always best to bring us in during the planning stages of the project to give the trees the best opportunity to survive,” he said. “We have many more options for tree preservation before the project is started. We could also help in a situation where the homeowner wants to save a tree that really shouldn’t be saved because the impact of the project will be too significant.”

Shrubs and grass need protection too
Tom Ball, owner of Ground Affects Landscaping Inc. in Sullivan said that even power washing or painting your house could damage shrubs as they absorb chemicals and sprays. “To keep paint and chemicals off of them, I would cover the shrubs with tarps or poly plastic during the day and uncover them in the evening (to release heat build-up)," he said.

Moving shrubs to another area of the yard is another option. “Heel them in a shaded area, mulch them, and keep them well-watered. When the project is completed, you can re-transplant them, amending the soil with peat moss, Milorganite®, or a root stimulator,” he said.

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