PPDL Picture of the Week for
October 1, 2012

Construction Damage in the Landscape

Kyle Daniel, Nursery & Landscape Outreach Specialist, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University

Construction is a necessary element for renovation of current infrastructure and new infrastructure for increasing and expanding populations. In past times, the first step on a construction site was to clear the land of all vegetation. The current practice of saving trees when feasible is a result of society, in general, being more environmentally conscious and aware of the benefits of trees. The major benefits of trees are not realized until maturity, so replacing trees at construction sites does not have the same, immediate, benefits as leaving them. When trees are saved, it is probable that they will be under much stress due to the construction. There are innumerable ways in which trees are subjected to stress. Just to name a few:

  • Compaction from equipment (Fig.1 )

  • Added soil causing compaction (Fig.1)

  • Severe pruning to allow room for equipment (Fig.2)

  • Disturbing roots (Figs. 3-5)

  • Chemical/Fuel spillage

The pictures provided are more extreme examples of damage that can occur. The majority of today’s construction sites are very cognizant with regards to protecting trees. Sometimes damage is inevitable, but taking steps to reduce the impact can lead to new infrastructure and healthy, mature trees.

For a list of urban tolerant trees in Indiana, visit the Indiana Urban Forestry Council Tree Selection Guide (pdf file).

A Purdue Extension Bulletin entitled Construction and Trees: Guidelines for Protection (pdf file) written by Lindsey Purcell, Urban Forestry Specialist, is another good resource.

Click image to enlarge

Fig. 1: Compaction of soil by equipment driving over the root zone of Norway spruce.

Fig.2: Construction near Purdue University with trees in the background and foreground that were severely pruned to allow access for equipment.

Fig. 3: Construction near residential neighborhood in Southeast Indiana.

Fig. 4: Trench dug up to the base of trees. Trench is approximately 15 feet deep.

Fig 5: Construction in Southeast Indiana. Trench is approximately 15 feet deep. Note the location where the majority of roots are located.

Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab Purdue Cooperative Extension Service