This post appeared in the Naples Daily News 4.25.2015
Buy a lot, build a house. Simple, right? But what if you fall in love with a lot only to discover that a beautiful shade tree just happens to occupy the very space you imagined for the big screen television? “Mommy! I can’t see the TV! The tree is in the way!”
Trees Make a Neighborhood
“What’s the problem?”, you might wonder. “Builders accommodate trees all the time!” And you would be right, to a point, although accommodating trees is often with unseen compromise. “Call a landscape architect! They know what to do!”
We know that trees on the lot but outside the building can be mortally damaged by the amount of fill soil required to establish a safe elevation for a new home. We also know that trees inside the building envelope can’t be saved. Or can they?
Because We Can
Until a few decades ago, developers routinely cleared sites of trees and shrubs before building. Through the efforts of responsible developers and progressive building codes, those days are gone. At the same time, home buyers expect more than rows of houses surrounded with sod and asphalt like Levittown on opening day. Home buyers expect both some measure of environmental protection as well as enhancement.
Why not just move the tree?, buyers wonder.
Moving trees rarely pays, at least not directly. Sure, the presence of a large tree might help a lot sell faster, but then again, the same amount of money spent on new plantings could have the same effect. No, the decision to move a large tree is an affair of the heart. It is an effort made largely not because it is necessary but because it is possible.
That’s the decision made by Dan Ciesielski (Cha-shell-ski), Land Development Manager for Neal Communities, when he visited a 10 acre oak-covered site in Estero that came to be called ‘Oaks of Estero’. Dan’s a smart, amiable guy with a talent for helping his company solve thorny problems. At the same time, Dan loves big trees.
Originally from Indiana, Ciesielski has been in southwest Florida our area for decades, having worked previously for high-end developers like WCI Communities and Bonita Bay. This little project hardly tests his lengthy pedigree. Neal could build 23 homes ignoring the 64 large oaks. But ignoring the trees just didn’t work for Ciesielski.
Keep in mind that Neal Communities had permits to bulldoze every tree, some more than 40’ tall. Dan went in a different direction.
Nuts and Bolts
The process began with a phone call to Al O’Donnell. One of our area’s largest landscape contractors, Al had plenty of experience moving large trees, including many of the prodigious specimen trees that gave Naples Botanical Garden a head start. Dan and Al had long history, having moved trees for Bonita Bay’s ‘Verandah’ as well as for Neal Communities’ ‘Canopy’, among other projects. Walking this lovely wooded site with Grant Wilbanks, my colleague from Waldrop Engineering, a decision was made. The trees would be moved.
The work began in October of last year. Crews dug a trench around the tree, cutting about 60% of the roots. A drip irrigation line is placed around the circle. This is critical, says Al O’Donnell: “Water is everything”.
The next step? Waiting for the trees’ short dormancy, the best time to move trees. It’s just like surgery– the patient’s wisdom teeth are pulled with hardly a notice.
Unlike surgery, though, dormancy isn’t always predictable, especially this year; the trees woke early, forcing an accelerated schedule.
In late December and early January, while the trees were sleeping but starting to wake, crews widened the trench around the trees, placing a heavy shrink wrap around the root ball to retain the soil. At this point all horizontal roots have been cut. Water lines are re-installed.
Eight weeks later crews return. In order to pick up the trees, a one inch hole is drilled completely through the trunk about two feet from the ground. A steel bar is inserted through the hole, offering grab points for the slings that will actually lift the tree.
This is where the fun starts! Using a 7-½ ton front end loader, each tree is lifted while crews cut away the last roots. The big machine pads slowly across soft earth, trees guided by workers then carefully planted in new, safe locations. This part is critical because placing the trees on a truck multiplies the price.
Mortality is part of the process. Al O’Donnell expects “15% to die on root pruning and another 15% on moving”. In this case, though, not a single tree has even showed stress.
For those of you wondering, costs ranged from $450 to $1950 per tree.