Arbutus: How to Determine health of an Arbutus tree

Discussion in 'Ericaceae (rhododendrons, arbutus, etc.)' started by Brian Smith, Sep 25, 2004.

  1. Hi!
    We have bought a lot in Ladysmith that has a mature Arbutus tree on it. During the development of the subdivision the road excavation crew removed a major amount (not sure how much because we weren't there) of the North roots and now a retaining wall within 3 meters of the trunk on the N side prevents any soil erosion but obviously root re-establishment. We have heard from the neighbors that the tree doesn't look anywhere's as healthy 5 years after the development was put in.

    During this period of time ( 5 years) and moisture has been able to course across the property and provide some moisture to the tree.

    When we build we will be excavating on the south side of the tree (within 2 meters)and will likely do root damage, depending on how the roots spread. The tree is about 35' tall. We are concerned that if we don't address this issue before construction we will
    1. Kill the tree and have to deal with its removal after the fact.
    2. Have a windstorm bring the tree down on the new house.
    3. Not have established an effective plan to deal with promoting root growth but not at the detriment of foundations and plumbing.

    Could you advise the following:

    1. What type of root system does this tree have given that it is 35' tall?
    2. With the existing root damage that occurred 5 years ago and its rather sickly appearance now, (it apparently doesn't bloom in the spring) and has very few leaves on the branches will a foundation excavation within 2 meters of the trunk essentially reduce the tree to a future hazard?

    Thank you for providing such a great forum for having these issues discussed.
  2. HortLine

    HortLine Active Member 10 Years

    Likes Received:
    Vancouver, BC
    The health of your Arbutus Tree

    Having an Arbutus tree on your new lot is truly a treasure, it is unfortunate that the excavation to the north has compromised it's health. As you are probably aware, the Arbutus menziesii dislikes any kind of disturbance and thrives where it is left to the elements of nature. It must have fast drainage and nonalkaline water. The root system in a mature tree like yours, will be wire-like and very extensive, reaching for natural fissures in the sub soil and rock to attach itself. If there is extensive rock material, the roots will likely be rather shallow but extending outward a great distance. If the sub material is softer, the roots will penetrate downwards. The problem you describe could be due to the disturbance, however, our summers have been increasingly dry which could also add to the problem of leaf drop and sparse foliage. Our advice to you would be to watch and wait (if you have the time). Chances are that further excavation to the south will contribute negatively to the well being of this tree. If you could re-plan your foundation to avoid disturbance you may be able to save it, but it is difficult to predict how much damage has already occurred underground. Good luck.

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