In this context "hugging your trees" means taking special care of them, especially during excavation and construction activities.
Over the decades, we've witnessed the death of dozens of majestic trees that could have easily been preserved with the proper precautions taken around their trunk and root zone.
A few simple precautions will help most trees survive construction activities. These precautions can be narrowed down to 2 basic principles:
1. Protect the tree trunk
2. Defend the root zone
People tend to think of tree trunks as just being wood. After all they say, how can you hurt a board? It's only wood!
Even though the center core of most tree trunks is just wood (Heartwood), the inner bark consists of living cells. These layers are known as the Phloem (FLOW-em) and the Cambium, with the Cambium being the actual growth layer. The Cambium produces Phloem cells in front (toward the exterior of the trunk) and leaves Xylem (Zi-lem) behind (toward the center core of the tree trunk).
Since these layers of conductive tissue are just inside the often rough, outer bark, it's very important to protect these tree tissues from wounding, just as you protect your own skin from abrasions, because in both cases, wounds provide an opening for disease pathogens to enter.
Most people think tree roots can live without air since they are buried in soil. However, as seen on our soil webpage, half of a soil's volume is made up of pore space. Tree roots use this pore space to exchange gases and "breathe." If the root zone of a tree is covered with a foot or two of soil, that's usually enough to suffocate the roots and eventually kill the tree. Some trees are adversely affected by as little as a few inches of soil fill over their rootzone.
Most tree roots aren't as deep in the ground as most people think -- most roots are within two feet of the soil surface. Cutting roots in this area can cause serious harm to trees.
A worst case scenario is digging a deep trench close to a tree's trunk, which can effectively remove 40% of the root system. This reduces the tree's stability, nutrient and water uptake, and it leaves open root wounds that provide an entryway for disease pathogens.
Prior to excavating your new building lot, decide which trees you want to preserve. In some cases, it won't be feasible to save trees that are in the way. But for trees that fit nicely on the building lot, and provide some nice shade or screening, take some early steps to provide protection:
1. Keep heavy equipment and big trucks off the root zone
2. Don't pile soil against the trunk or over the root zone
3. Avoid cutting trenches for utility lines close to the tree
4. Protect tree bark from heavy equipment and construction damage