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Chapter 7: Turf and Trees

Trees and Turf

While synthetic turf is often marketed as a solution for low-maintenance landscaping, it is true that there can be potential negative impacts on trees when it is installed improperly or without considering the needs of the trees. Starting my first company as a tree professional I can certainly discuss the topic based on inside knowledge.

One of the primary concerns with synthetic turf and trees is related to water and air movement. When synthetic turf is installed over tree root zones or close to the base of the tree, it can hinder water penetration into the soil and restrict the exchange of air, both of which are crucial for the health of tree roots. This can lead to root suffocation, decreased nutrient uptake, and overall stress on the trees.

Additionally, synthetic turf can contribute to increased soil temperatures around the tree base, creating a heat island effect. Elevated soil temperatures can negatively impact the root systems and overall health of the tree, especially during hot weather conditions.

Another important consideration is that synthetic turf often requires the use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers during the preparation of an area for artificial turf installation. These chemicals can potentially leach into the surrounding soil and affect tree health, particularly if the tree roots encounter them.

Environmental Factors

These Environmental factors highlight some of the potential negative impacts of synthetic grass on trees and the surrounding ecosystem. Here's a summary of the key points:

1. Reduced water and air penetration: Synthetic grass hinders the natural flow of water and air into the soil, limiting the availability of these essential resources for tree roots.

2. Compacted soil: Natural turf helps aerate the soil through its roots, preventing it from becoming hard and compacted. Synthetic grass lacks this soil-aerating ability.

3. Harmful to beneficial microorganisms: The environment created by synthetic turf is detrimental to beneficial fungi and bacteria present in the soil. These microorganisms are crucial for nutrient cycling and soil health.

4. Lack of organic matter: Microorganisms require organic lawn coverings, such as leaf litter and insect castings, to thrive. Artificial grass inhibits the easy delivery of these organic materials to the soil and tree root system.

5. Nutrient deficiency: Synthetic turf prevents above-ground nutrients from reaching tree roots. The lack of replenished nutrients can negatively impact tree health and growth.

6. Loss of organic material: When synthetic turf is rinsed off, organic material on top of it is often washed away. This organic matter serves as a significant source of nutrients for trees, and its loss can further impact tree health.

7. Herbicide exposure: Herbicides may be used during the preparation of an area for artificial turf installation. These chemicals can be absorbed by tree roots, potentially poisoning the tree and causing irreversible damage.

Installation and Water

Listed below are general rules to consider when installing around trees with Synthetic Turf. Consulting with other arborist in my region, we have created a very unique installation method that we feel address the concerns in this blog. Creates a safer environment for the trees and allows the home owner or business to install synthetic turf in a safe manner for the environment.

1. Synthetic grass installations near trees can be harmful. When leveling the ground around a tree for installation, installers often damage the roots. The decomposed granite (DG) base used underneath the turf can harden like concrete over time, preventing water, oxygen, and moisture from reaching the tree roots. This can lead to the growth of harmful pathogens that attack the stressed or weakened tree, potentially causing its demise.

2. Proper watering is crucial. Homeowners are advised to water trees deeply but infrequently. It is recommended to water 8 to 12 inches below the surface. Checking the moisture level at least 12 inches down using a soil probe is the best way to determine when it's time to water. Concentric rings of soaker hoses can be used for watering, starting at the drip line of the tree and working inward, but avoiding placing them closer than 2-3 feet from the trunk to prevent creating a favorable environment for pathogens.

3. Careful tree trimming is essential. Trees usually do not require trimming unless it is for safety reasons. Natural selective pruning is recommended to reduce certain lateral branches that pose a risk of breakage and damage. However, thinning a drought-stressed tree is discouraged as it can deprive the tree of its food source and further stress it, making it susceptible to pathogens and disease.

4. Tree health can be compromised by root defects, decay, and construction damage. Large trees falling over are often the result of root defects or decay caused by factors like aggressive root pruning, invasion of pathogens, or damage from construction activities such as trenching or grade alterations.

5. Climate change affects tree viability. Certain tree species like white birch, white alder, olives, and California redwoods are struggling due to climate change. Changes in climate conditions have made it challenging for these trees to thrive.

6. Mulch and proper care are beneficial. Adding a layer of mulch or shredded bark around the base of a tree can help conserve water, reduce weed growth, and protect the tree. It is recommended to keep the mulch no more than 2 inches thick and at least 8-12 inches away from the trunk. Mulch should be obtained from a reputable source to ensure it is clean and free from unwanted materials like plastic.

7. Homeowners play a crucial role in tree care. Given that many gardeners lack the time and expertise, it is up to homeowners to ensure proper care and maintenance of their trees. Educating oneself about water and soil management and implementing appropriate practices can help protect and preserve urban trees.

Before you Install

While I can't provide our unique installation method, I can certainly provide you with some general rules and considerations when installing synthetic turf around trees. These guidelines aim to minimize potential harm to the trees and create a safer environment. Here are some points to consider:

1. Protect tree roots: Take care not to damage or compact the tree's root system during installation. Tree roots require oxygen, water, and nutrients, so it's important to avoid covering them with compacted soil or synthetic turf.

· Tree Protection Zone: Identify the tree's critical root zone, which is the area around the tree where the majority of the roots are located. Avoid any heavy machinery, digging, or compaction within this zone. Typically, the critical root zone extends to the drip line of the tree, which is the outermost reach of the tree's branches.

· Root Preservation: Minimize disturbance to the tree's roots as much as possible. Avoid cutting or severing any major roots during the installation process. Trenching or excavation near the tree should be done cautiously to prevent damage to the roots.

· In Some Case: Install a root barrier: Consider using a root barrier around the perimeter of the tree's root zone to prevent tree roots from infiltrating the synthetic turf area. This can help avoid future conflicts between the roots and the turf.

2. Proper drainage: Ensure that the synthetic turf installation allows for proper drainage. Standing water around the tree can be detrimental to its health. Adequate drainage can be achieved by installing a suitable base material beneath the turf. I recommend natural fiber geotextiles.

3. Allow air circulation: Avoid completely enclosing the tree's base with synthetic turf. It's essential to leave space around the tree trunk to allow for proper airflow and prevent moisture buildup.

4. Avoid excessive heat: Synthetic turf can retain heat, which may affect the tree's health. Choose lighter-colored turf options that reflect more sunlight or consider shading the area to minimize heat stress on the tree.

· Select Appropriate Turf Material: Choose a synthetic turf product that allows for good air circulation and drainage. Some turf materials can retain heat, which may negatively affect the tree's root system. Opt for turf that has a cooler surface temperature and allows for proper air circulation.

· Nylons, and UV treated turfs should be considered. Though more expensive they are the better choice for treed areas.

5. Soil Compaction: Take precautions to prevent excessive soil compaction around the tree, as compacted soil restricts oxygen and water penetration. Avoid driving heavy machinery or equipment over the root zone, as this can compact the soil and hinder root growth.

6. Avoid chemical exposure: Be cautious with the materials used during installation. Ensure that no harmful chemicals or substances come into contact with the tree or its roots. I have found many installers are unaware of particular coatings and chemicals that are used on metal embeds and other anchoring devises used in the installation process. There are more advanced and safer methods that can be used to protect the trees, environment and safety of the end users. A brief summary.

· See my section on Chemicals and their dangers to the environment.

· Short-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs) are a group of chemicals that have been widely used in various industrial applications, including metalworking fluids, plasticizers, and flame retardants. SCCPs are characterized by having carbon chain lengths ranging from 10 to 13 carbons with varying degrees of chlorine substitution.

· Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal that can pose various dangers to both humans and the environment. While cadmium is primarily associated with industrial processes and pollution, it can indirectly affect trees and other plants through contaminated soil and water sources.

· Excessive intake of zinc can potentially lead to adverse effects, including damage to the roots of plants. Zinc is an essential micronutrient for plants, but like any nutrient, it should be provided in appropriate amounts. When plants are exposed to high levels of zinc, it can disrupt their nutrient balance and interfere with various physiological processes

· Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are commonly used as plasticizers to increase the flexibility, transparency, and durability of plastics. They are also used in a variety of other products, such as adhesives, cosmetics, fragrances, and certain medical devices. However, phthalates have been associated with potential environmental and health hazards.

o Phthalates can accumulate in soils and sediments, especially in areas where plastic waste is disposed of or where plastic products degrade. This can potentially affect soil quality and the organisms living in those environments.

o Wildlife and Ecosystem Impact: Phthalates have been found in various wildlife species, including fish, birds, and mammals. They can bioaccumulate in the food chain, potentially causing adverse effects on reproductive systems, development, and behavior of exposed animals. This can have cascading effects on the ecosystem.

8. Edging and Border Installation: Use flexible or removable edging materials around the tree to allow for tree growth and prevent the turf from restricting the trunk or roots. Avoid rigid materials that may cause damage or hinder natural root expansion.

9. Professional Consultation: If you are uncertain about the potential impact on your specific tree species or need further guidance, consult with a certified arborist or tree specialist. They can assess the tree's health, provide specific recommendations, and help you navigate the installation process while preserving tree integrity.

10. Regular maintenance: Implement a maintenance plan that includes regular inspection of the trees. Look out for signs of stress or damage and address any issues promptly.

Remember, these are general guidelines, and it's crucial to consult with your local arborists and experts who are familiar with the specific conditions in your region. They can provide more tailored advice and insights based on your unique circumstances.

Finally, it is important to note that these factors should be considered in the context of the specific environment and the management practices employed. Mitigation measures can be implemented to minimize the potential negative impacts, such as ensuring proper irrigation and using organic alternatives to herbicides.

To mitigate the potential harm to trees caused by synthetic turf, Let’s review once again the minimum basic essentials to follow:

1. Install synthetic turf at a safe distance from the tree base, avoiding covering the entire root zone or trunk flare area. This allows for proper water penetration and gas exchange.

2. Use permeable synthetic turf or incorporate permeable sections to ensure water can reach the tree roots.

3. Provide adequate irrigation to compensate for the reduced water penetration and to maintain the moisture levels required by the trees.

4. Implement a mulch layer around the base of the tree, even if synthetic turf is installed nearby. Mulch helps conserve moisture, regulates soil temperature, and promotes healthy root growth.

5. Regularly monitor the health of the trees, including visual inspections of the foliage, canopy, and root systems. If signs of stress or decline are observed, consult with a certified arborist to determine the best course of action.

By taking these precautions and considering the specific needs of the trees, it is possible to minimize the potential harm caused by synthetic turf and maintain the health and vitality of the surrounding trees.

Want to create a safer environment for your trees? Please contact me for a consultation on our unique Arborist approved tree system MI-TY Installation system.

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