Home Is Where Your Trees Are

A Clearing In The Wildwood. Part 1

As this book is begun, across the writer's memory passes a panorama of American homes from New England to California and from the Adirondacks to South Carolina. Six have been his own homes, three suburban, three truly rural. Most belong to people who have sought professional advice about their trees, in grounds ranging from segments of raw "developments" to expansive, manicured estates laid out in unspoiled countryside. Regardless of size or pretensions, the central questions have always been the same and always should be: "What, if anything, do our trees really need? How can we preserve and improve them most prudently?" Every one cherishes his trees to some degree, but no one really thinks money grows on them. Between the most affluent, experienced owner and the most modest and inexperienced, prudence is a common denominator. What the former well knows, the latter fears: tree care can be overdone as well as underdone. Each seeks a happy medium where overhead will not outrun psychic income and real value in the property.

As with any other performance, some familiarity with the cast of characters is essential to directing and enjoying tree care. Happiest are those people who can recognize and understand all the trees they own. It is not within the scope of this book to provide a catalog of species, but careful thought has been given to a list of guidebooks appended to this chapter. Manuals that cover all sections of the country have been chosen, and also books of appreciation - good writing about trees by authorities who love their subjects as well as they know it. Having acquired or planned a home with trees, an owner should, before he goes in for any planting, make the most of what he finds growing wild on his site. Later chapters will discuss grounds long since built on and planted, and naked acres where a start must be made from scratch. Considered in this chapter will be virgin land more or less wooded and not yet trammeled by the bulldozer; or, if building and grading have begun, not yet treescaped. Trees never before touched by man give their first possessor a sense of receiving gifts straight from nature, entirely his own.

Tree guide in hand, walk your property - purchased or prospective - when the country is in full leaf. If you can inspect it during spring bloom, so much the prettier; but later on, when all the leaves are out, even in summer's heat when some trees are suffering, your view of shading, crowding, and moisture conditions will be much clearer. What you want to know first is what species you have got. Then: Where stand the finest specimens? Are there many more of some species than of others? How do your trees compare in kind and condition with the trees on neighboring land? How is their water table? Their drainage? The answers to these questions may have strong bearing on whether or not you buy. If you have already bought, the bearing will be on how you handle your investment. After you have identified and sized up your trees in a general way, start thinking about the position of your new house in relation to feature trees, the finest specimens. These are not necessarily the largest ones. Kind and shape are what count, and promise for the future. Close proximity to the house is not an important criterion either. Looking from a little distance at trees is often more satisfying than seeing how they flatter the architecture. Fine outpost trees will enhance your grounds as a whole, and your sense of space.

Where conflicts threaten between valued trees and the building, driveways, or pipelines, make early decisions and avoid compromise. If a tree must go to make way for a wall or footing, take it out promptly and forget it. Later this would cost you much more, with the finished work in the way. If you really do want a tree that "interferes," change the blueprints. Architects have some feeling for trees. Many builders have none. Most of the men on bulldozers and back-hoes develop definite blind spots, if not visible horns. If the earth-moving and fine-grading are within your control, mark the trees you want to save with bright tags or rags. Baffle or board up the trunks of those near work traffic. When your house is staked out, stake out your best trees also. The stakes should be driven and stringed out around each tree beyond its crown area, where its roots run. Have it understood with the contractor that no rapacious jaws or blades are to invade these areas, or any heavy machine treads. Impaction of the soil can damage roots, by suffocation, as badly as cutting or exposing them will.

So can piling earth over them more than three or four inches deep, even temporarily. Graders have a way of piling earth against tree butts and then leaving it there on the theory that the fine-grading, by hand, will be done soon enough. It seldom is, and those pile-ups can be fatal after just a few weeks. Where fill is unavoidable, have spacious stone or cinder-block wells laid up quickly around buttress roots, and a scattering of drain tiles - up-ended and filled with small rock - embedded over root systems to provide ventilation and irrigation. Contractors are perfectly able to do these things, if you insist. Where roots must be cut, or are damaged regardless, feed these trees and have their tops pruned, to compensate, as soon as possible. Equally prompt should be repairs to torn limbs, butt scars, and bark wounds.