Just as I did with the #2 way to hurt trees, I am used a very human description: Suffocation.

That's just what it is. Trees' roots need to breathe air as well as take in water. Also trees don't do well with heavy things put over their roots. That's all a form of suffocation. I can't sugar-coat it. This is the worst thing that anyone can do to a tree.

Some tree care professionals promote this kind of decoration. Knowledgable ones don't. They know it will kill the trees. When you encounter a tree care professional or even a lawn service, make sure that they:

  • Actually care about your trees--don't just want to just sell mulch and labor.
  • Have extensive knowledge about what trees need to survive.

I apologize up front for all of these painful photos... but I believe it is useful to see what people do that is just plain wrong so we don't have to make the same mistakes.

Volcano Mulching

This is a pet-peeve of mine: piling up mulch at the base of trees. It's not pretty, it's deadly.

Oh, some trees manage to use the roots that are further out from the mulch, but the whole thing weakens the trees, and they become susceptible to disease organisms and insects.

Suburban Massacres

For as pretty as some people think this looks, this is sure death for their nice suburban tree in their nice suburban lawn. It is too hot, too heavy, and suffocating for these trees. It may take a couple of years, but these trees will die.

Actually, the big one with the patio bricks around it did die. So in their short-sightedness, the shade that the owners wanted for their patio was no longer there.

And then there are more construction abuses: too much fill

You can tell just by looking that they had this house built because they LOVED the beautiful old Oak tree. The tree died, probably because of ignorance or incompetence on the part of the builder. You can tell that this makes me VERY ANGRY!!

It was buried under about 3 feet of fill after the house was completed. The living Oak tree couldn't breathe and it was crushed.

Within a month after being filled, the tree lost all of its leaves. The owner didn't realize what happened but then started researching. The owner tried to dig it out.

He called us in. That's Dr. Jim Conroy, The Tree Whisperer® trying to save the tree but it was already dead.

If you are having construction done, you must hold the builders to a high standard. We suggested that the owner sue that builder. Construction companies should know better than to do this.

Buried under 3 feet of fill. The owner dug it out but it was too late.

Below is another construction example that wasn't quite as bad. The builders tried to allow space for the tree by building this wall, but the tree was heavily stressed. You can tell it was stressed because it was already sending out branches low on the trunk because it couldn't circulate fluids properly higher in the structure.

If you look carefully, there was plenty of space for them to build that wall much further away from the tree. They could have been much more careful with it.

We do not know what happened to the tree after we tried to help it.

E for Effort, but not good enough

This tree was left with some root space more or less at the root level, but it's insufficient. The retaining rocks are still just too close to the trunk. There is still too much fill under the drip line of the tree.

How much is too much cover? FILL KILLS!!!

This is too much. We dig this out. it's still not quite at soil level. One inch or more of fill is just too much. Maybe a tree can tolerate a little more mulch, but soil (what's called "fill") is not porous, is too heavy. Think of the pillow over your face. You'll gasp and then you'll suffocate if you don't get it off.

Just Ridiculous

What were these people thinking? Obviously, they weren't using their heads for anything but straw.

There's Dr. Jim inside of that pit trying to help that poor, doomed tree.

And this massive pile of mulch around this tiny little tree. It makes me wonder about the common sense of whoever did this. The tree is already sending up shoots because it can't grow normally.

Parking for House

Years before, this parking lot was paved in front of the house. The majestic 5 story high Tulip tree managed to survive. It's possible that this pavement material is a bit porous, and that helped. The very caring owner was willing to rip up the pavement. But, since it survived for years, that would have done more harm than good. So said "leave it." It's better not to do this in the first place.

Still we see this insult to trees--paving right up to their trunk--in many places, especially around businesses. Not a good idea.

So as my dear departed father used to say, "Let that be a lesson to you!" All of this tree-death could have been averted with a little knowledge and common sense.

For learning about what is RIGHT to do to help trees... please click on the Do For Trees Tag.

Please click to go to each of the Top 10 Ways to Hurt Trees

#10 Way to Hurt Trees: Pollution, litter, and dumping.

#9 Way to Hurt Trees:  Remove the leaves from the drip zone.

#8 Way to Hurt Trees: Wrong or inappropriate use of chemicals.

#7 Way to Hurt Trees: Poor transplanting.

#6 Way to Hurt Trees:  Failing to Water even mature trees in heat and drought.

#5 Way to Hurt Trees: Careless Practices and Injury

#4 Way to Hurt Trees: Cutting down nearby trees or disturbing the ecosystem.

#3 Way to Hurt Trees: Construction abuses.

#2 Way to Hurt Trees: Strangulation by ropes, ties, wires, etc.

#1 Way to Hurt Trees: Suffocation by burying roots under mulch, fill, planters, or regrading of land.

Please check our sister website: PartnerWithNature.org.