Canopy of Spanish Moss and Live Oak

In 2010, I wrote an article on a specific tree that had been part of the Sea Island horse stables property, on St. Simons Island. The title of the article was “The Tale of a Live Oak.” It was simply the fictional story written from the perspective of very real mature live oak that had been witness to island development for approximately 100 years. From the 1930s to 2008, this oak was one of many oaks at the corner of Sea Island and Frederica roads. They all had the benefit of growing in undisturbed soil, while providing shade for the horses as well as the humans who frequented the stables. In 2008, the horse stables were relocated further north on the island and the old buildings were torn down. The St. Simons Land Trust bought the property in 2010, preserving the existing tree canopy. However, the subsequent development of a shopping center to the west of the old stables required the establishment of a roadway to allow ingress and egress. While some smaller trees were simply removed, the lone mature live oak featured in the article was allowed to remain but isolated in a tiny island surrounded by asphalt. To accomplish this, large heavy machines ran back and forth over its root system. The weight of the equipment compacted the soil affecting the soil oxygen levels. Even more injury occurred when the machines dug deep into the soil, removing major portions of the tree’s root system to within six feet of the trunk. The removal of roots deprived the oak of the means to take up sufficient water and nourishment in addition to effectively eliminating the stability the oak used to keep its massive weight upright. The article ended with the following statement by the oak:

“Unfortunately, I don’t think I am going to “live out” the tale of a

live oak. You see, folklore says I should grow 100 years, live 100

years and die 100 years. Sadly, my story changed when the island’s

development finally reached me.”

Now 12 years later, the statement has proven to be true. The oak is in a very serious state of decline, having used up every bit of its carbohydrate reserve, compensating for the lack of necessary nutrients, water and oxygen by producing little growth and fewer leaves every year until the tree has nothing left to give. It will require removal in the near future. Sadly, this scenario is not just an isolated one. It can take years, but construction damage left unchecked usually results in tree death.

Loss of tree canopy occurs whenever a geographic area is “discovered.” The influx of people creates many concerns. Questions arise as to whether existing roads and public utilities can meet the increased demands. Our local headlines and conversations seem to be focused primarily on what ails us humans, such as traffic flow, particularly on main roads never designed for so many cars. Thankfully, there are folks on our Georgia coast who care a great deal about the tree canopy, even if one doesn’t hear much about the threat to the beloved trees that benefit our own health. The demand for services that provide care for trees and palms has grown in sync with the increase in homes and businesses. Around Glynn County, qualified certified arborists, such as my husband, are being asked to visit sites slated for development before any bulldozer or grading equipment has arrived. This allows the arborist to establish the guidelines necessary to prevent injury to the existing trees that are to remain on the property. These include:

• Visiting the site, assessing tree health and marking trees to be protected during construction

• Meeting with architect, builder and homeowner to see if any changes need to be made in the design layout, such as changing the angle of a building or curving a walk, in order to preserve the root system of a desired tree

• Erecting a physical barrier around the drip line of the tree to protect the structural root plate

• Injecting nutrients into trunk or the root zone (before mulching and any construction) to encourage new root development to replace those roots damaged in construction

• Insulating the soil and root zone from equipment compaction with an 8-inch to 10-inch layer of wood chip mulch during construction

• Requiring little to no grade change around the root zone

• Pruning of any diseased or dead limbs

• Air spading large tree roots that fall within the building foundation rather than having them stripped out with a bulldozer or excavator

• Encouraging the use of permeable driveways or walkways

• Managing the watering process to ensure sufficient soil moisture

Having the arborist make inspections during the building process provides assurance that the requirements are being met. My husband often is retained throughout the entire project which gives the homeowner/business owner the peace of mind that everything possible is being done to save their trees.

Let’s change the ending of the story for the remaining trees that add such beauty to our coastal environment. If you are building or are just concerned about the health of an existing tree, call a certified arborist. You’ll be glad you did.