Cottage Q&A: Will this tree survive?

A tree growing in a parking lot beside a building Photo by Bradley Reinhardt

The Cottage Life crew recently moved into a new office (in Toronto’s Liberty Village). We noticed a tree sprouting from the parking lot behind the building. We had so many questions! How is it still standing? Is it getting water? Will it die? Will it fall? We went to an arborist for the answers. 

It’s not so much the lack of water that’s the problem, says Steve Smith of Bartlett Tree Experts in Calgary. “The main issue is probably the extensive damage to the root system from the process of it getting paved over, along with how compacted the soil is now.” Sorry, Mr. Tree: “The pavement piled on top of the root system and against the trunk will likely lead to the tree’s decline, and, eventually, its death.” It’s possible that the whole tree could come down, but “the more likely scenario would be a gradual loss if vigour and tip dieback until there’s nothing left of the tree,” says Smith

There’s a right way and a wrong way to hardscape near a tree. Spoiler alert: pictured is the wrong way. The right way? “Keep outside of the dripline of the tree—the tips of the branches,” says Smith. “This will ensure that only a small portion of the root system could potentially be damaged during the work.” Significantly damaging the tree in its “critical root zone”—roughly one foot in radius for every inch of diameter of the trunk as measured at about four feet or 1.4 metres above the ground—will cause serious problems. Trees with damaged roots have a harder time staying hydrated and a harder time absorbing vital nutrients. They become more susceptible to disease and pest damage.

“I would say if people are really worried about damaging a tree’s root system it is best to have an arborist come out and give them their thoughts before beginning the project,” says Smith.

Well, it’s too late for our parking lot tree. Still, we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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