Do I really need to cut down this tree?
May 21, 2014 8:21 AM   Subscribe

I love the 50-foot pine tree in front of my house, but its roots have torn up my driveway. (1) Is there anything to do besides cutting down the tree? (2) How can I feel better about losing this tree?

My house is on a corner lot, and the tree is on the corner. Its plot is bounded on three sides: the driveway, the curving sidewalk rounding the corner, and the equipment box and access manhole of a sewage lift station on a town-controlled easement.

The tree is about 18" in diameter. It is to all appearances very healthy. I love the way it shades the front of the house and also draws some attention away from the lift station. I like how its snow-laden branches droop over the driveway. I even love the lilies-of-the-valley growing around its base.

However, one of its roots has really done a number on our driveway, rupturing the pavement across the entire width-- we now have a speed bump. It makes shoveling snow harder. I'm worried about deterioration of the driveway's foundation and about the impact on the house's sellability.

The trunk of the tree is only a couple of feet from the driveway and this appears to be a large root, so I think root trimming is not an option.

So, to recap and expand on the questions above:
1. Do we have any options besides cutting it down? Two tree service companies have said that's the only thing to do, but they aren't necessarily unbiased. Can we encase the root in a hard shell of some sort and pave over it? Should we try pruning the root?

2. How can I stop from feeling ill at the thought of losing this tree, or at least move through feeling so guilty about having to take it down if that's what we have to do?
posted by underthehat to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Can you move the driveway?
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:28 AM on May 21, 2014

I used to work in (UK) home insurance. A tree like this could cause subsidence and as such it would get flagged on home report making your house harder to sell and a mortgage harder to obtain. Sentimentality vs financial reality, I am afraid.

However, consider planting a tree (or six) in your neighbourhood - a community park or similar - to keep the universe balanced.
posted by kariebookish at 8:28 AM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have an arborist come by and check it. We had pine trees on our property with Pine Bark Rot, We paid a gazillion dollars to have a crane come and take them down, our neighbors didn't, right until their tree fell into our backyard crushing the fences and damn near rocking the house off the foundation. One foot in a different direction and it would have taken out the house!

Pine is a soft wood and you'll notice that there's no "Giant Old Pine Tree" like the "Giant Sequoia" That's because they naturally fall over before they get big enough. You have a choice, you can determine when the tree comes down, or the tree can decide.

Also, here are the pictures of the Pine Tree that dropped a branch onto my old car, causing a few thousand dollars worth of damage.

I'd have that tree out so fast it would make your head spin.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:36 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

A fast-growing pine tree that was planted too close to my house. It hasn't caused any problems yet but it's clear that it was a poor choice for the location. So, last year I planted another, more appropriate tree not far from it, with the idea that I will let the new tree get established for a few years before removing the pine. Basically I have a tree succession plan. It sounds like your driveway is already toast, so there's not much to save there. If you aren't planning to move soon then you could do something similar.
posted by jon1270 at 8:37 AM on May 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Another thought, tree roots can destroy your plumbing, so have a plumber come and put a camera down your pipes to determine if there's any root intrusion into your water lines, or sewer lines. Ask me about THAT sometime.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:38 AM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding Ruthless Bunny on how tree roots can destroy your plumbing, costing 10K-20K to fix.
posted by corb at 8:57 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: 2. How can I stop from feeling ill at the thought of losing this tree, or at least move through feeling so guilty about having to take it down if that's what we have to do?

Look, that tree was planted there to provide shade and be attractive. It did that for a long time, but it's getting to the point where the pleasure the tree provides is outweighed by the damage it's causing. When you take it down, you'll miss the tree, but you'll plant a new one (and the lily-of-the-valley can hang out around the base of the new tree, and the branches of the new tree will droop under the snow, etc.). Trees are great, but they're ultimately just trees, not pets or family members.

The tree very well might not live that much longer, regardless; pine trees are not oaks or maples.
posted by mskyle at 9:39 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Depending on the size and quality of the tree, you could also consider having it milled post-removal. "Urban lumber" is becoming a more common option for homeowners who would like to see a beloved tree live on in a new way as furniture or other products. (I work in that field, so feel free to PM me for links/resources if that's something you'd find interesting.)
posted by hessie at 9:59 AM on May 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: My job way back when was as a conservation planner for the local council planning department. Part of it was the making and serving of tree preservation orders on trees that contributed to public amenity but which were under threat of removal. I served orders on all sorts of trees and woods and picked up a bit of experience from working with the tree officers who assessed the trees in the first place. My general feeling is that in most cases trees should be retained wherever possible if they are safe, healthy and contributing to the visual amenity of an area.

I would remove the tree. I would do as jon1270 suggests above and plant a replacement now - you could even look for what's known as a semi-mature specimen for a bit more impact - and look to fell the pine once that's settled in. As it is, it's a trip hazard for anyone who's visiting you. With concrete or hard surfaces on three sides, it's going to be under stress and although apparently healthy now, probably won't live as long as it otherwise might have.

As an aside, removing trees on the grounds that they cause subsidence is something we got to hear a lot, but the reality is that a) trees weren't always to blame, especially if footings were poorly constructed or too shallow, or the tree was not on clay soils and b) removing some healthy trees can actually cause the opposite problem of heave, where the water they would naturally have used up through transpiration remains in the soil, causing it to swell. Drains too - roots certainly do invade drains in search of water, but it tended to be where the drains were older, so likely to be already cracked and leaking.

On preview, I was also going to suggest that if you have friends or acquaintances who could make something out of the wood, that could be a good way to keep the tree going in some way.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 10:04 AM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with others that you don't need to feel guilt over removing it and that you can plant another less aggressive tree in its stead. However... you don't have to remove it either. If you enjoy it more than you enjoy a perfect driveway, keep it. You'll need to deal with the driveway before you sell anyway, and it can wait until then.
posted by metasarah at 4:56 PM on May 21, 2014

« Older I have a phone interview tomorrow. What can I do...   |   Resources for abuse/DV in the Netherlands? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.