Q: We’ve built a home with a large tree in the front yard. The builder, in order to protect the tree, created a tree well that’s about six feet deep. The problem is that it is clearly a safety hazard for people, kids, and animals. We don’t want to lose the tree but we’re not sure of our options.
A: I’m not sure the tree is protected as well as the builder thinks. Tree wells are uniformly condemned by arborists. However, I know of a pecan tree surrounded by a four-foot deep tree well that has survived for six years
A properly constructed tree well can prolong the life of a tree whose roots must be covered with soil. It starts with a thick layer of coarse stone over the initial soil line outside the well. The rocks are covered with gravel, which is then covered by landscape fabric and an eight inch layer of sandy topsoil. Several four inch diameter “breathing tubes” extend upward from the stone layer to fresh air. This type of construction allows the roots to get oxygen and permits water and nutrients to filter down to them.
You can’t do much about your well at this point. Why not make a lattice top to it, using strong pressure-treated lumber? This would keep kids out but allow the tree to live as long as it can. See Tree Wells for a description of how to build a good tree well.
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