Learn how one family protected their stately American elm while renovating the surrounding area.
American elm
This American elm was protected during construction thanks to some savvy planning.
| Credit: Laurey W. Glenn / styling: Rose Nguyen

It was crucial to homeowners Dan Melman and Ed Rogers that a large American elm in their yard be protected during the overhaul of their 84-year-old Washington, D.C. home that would encompass not only a footprint-altering addition, but also a backyard renovation.

Keeping the tree's health in mind, they first placed a call to landscape architect J. Mark White, owner of GardenWise, Inc., in Arlington, Virginia. Then they called an arborist at The Care of Trees in D.C. While the landscape plan was still in the developmental stage, Mark worked closely with The Care of Trees to tweak the plans for both the house and the yard. "Six months prior to breaking ground, we prepared the tree for construction," says arborist Shawn Siefers.

"The key is to start early," he says. "Often, we're called in too late, and it limits what can be done." Here's what the crew did at this home:

  • Six months prior to breaking ground, they took soil samples and amended accordingly. "It's difficult to get pH and fertility right after construction is finished," says Shawn.
  • Next, they root-pruned with an Air-Spade. Done prior to construction, this removes roots just outside the building zone, allowing for minimal cuts and maximum healing time.
  • They then removed limbs conflicting with the home's addition.
  • Finally, they treated the tree with Cambistat, a growth regulator that encourages root growth while reducing canopy growth. "As a result, the tree's water requirements were decreased and so was drought stress," says Shawn.
  • Every other year, they treat the American elm with Arbotect to protect it from Dutch elm disease, a fungus that spreads from one tree to another.