Ask a Consulting Arborist Q&A: Tree Appraisal

Q: Our canary pine tree died shortly after a neighbor built a pool near it. How should we proceed?

Thursday, December 31, 2015  

Q: My husband and I have a beautiful canary pine tree behind our house. Our neighbor recently built a pool in her yard only a few feet from the tree. Soon after the completion of the pool, the tree started to die in patches, first nearest to their property and now, several months later, the tree is dying completely. On the lower parts, there is still some sporadic greenery, but the top is primarily dead with only one of two sparse green patches left. I am a lover of trees and am heartbroken as a first time homeowner that our only old growth tree on our property has suddenly died. Can you recommend how we should proceed? I had an arborist come by today who said that root stress from the pool construction would have caused the death. Does it seem the liability of the neighbor? Any information would be extremely helpful, this is a bit overwhelming.

A: Sorry to hear of your loss. This may be the result of root cutting for the neighbor's pool. A backhoe or excavator can break or tear the root some distance from the actual edge of the excavation, maybe all the way back to the trunk. The bottom line though, is that if the top is dead, the tree is ruined, and if there are only patches of green left at the bottom, the tree does not have enough foliage left to feed itself and will eventually die, even if you could stop the dieback immediately. Liability is a legal issue I cannot comment on and would eventually be decided by legal process, which can be somewhat unpredictable.

If you can talk to your neighbor, you might ask what the contractor did when he came across roots from your tree. Exposing the primary roots on your side may show whether or not the contractor broke back from the excavation and how many primary roots were involved of the total. It is hard to know how many roots were on your neighbor's side versus your side, but counting the total number of primary roots and seeing what direction they grew could help you estimate how much of the root system was lost. The timing does seem to indicate it was caused by the excavation, but it's hard to know what else may have contributed. If you do hire an attorney, try to get one with experience in tree cases and ask him or her to retain an RCA with forensic experience.

 

Responder: Greg Applegate, RCA #365, Tustin, CA