University of Maryland Extension

Construction Damage

construction fill damages tree

Key Points

  • Trees can be severely marred or even killed by certain construction practices, some of which are unavoidable. Consult a landscape professional to review your plans, assess your property, and to create a plan for protecting valuable trees before any clearing begins.
  • Site a new home carefully. Make use of existing trees and avoid excessive grading around them.
  • Protect desirable trees by using fencing and clearly marking them.

Construction Damage Problems

  • Poor grading around trunks

    • If tree roots have been exposed, a 2- to 4- inch layer of top soil may be applied over them. If more than 4- inches of soil have been piled around the base, attempt to reduce it by using tree wells. Otherwise, the tree may die from lack of oxygen to the roots. For valuable landscape trees, consult with an arborist. 

  • Compaction by heavy equipment

    • Soil immediately around trees may be seriously compacted as trucks and equipment pass by. There are no mechanical corrections for this problem.

  • Damage to bark and limbs

    • Broken tree limbs should be cleanly cut at the branch collar (photo below) on the trunk. If bark has been scraped, carefully remove ragged edges with a sharp knife. Do not apply pruning sealer on the cuts. 
      branch collar on tree limb

  • Root damage from trenching

    • Any excavating may damage roots of nearby trees. If this cannot be avoided, thin out tree branches to reduce water demands.

  • Evaluate existing trees and shrubs near the construction zone after completion. Sometimes damaged plants will benefit from fertilization and added irrigation. Continue these practices until the tree recovers or it is evident the tree or shrub has lost vigor and requires removal.

 Rev. 2019

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