Garden lovers all over the country will agree that outdoor spaces are immeasurably improved by the presence of trees. They create a focal point for smaller gardens, provide structure and height to larger spaces and give the garden a sense of maturity. From the dappled shade of a silver birch to the floral spectacle of an ornamental cherry to the majestic presence of an oak tree, these gentle giants are key to boosting our mental wellbeing in nature and enjoyment of our garden space.
What’s more, when it comes to selling your home, did you know that a mature garden that’s been lovingly looked after can add up to 20% to the property value? One would be forgiven to conclude that trees in gardens must therefore be highly prized but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, opinions are divided about whether it is indeed advisable to have a tree in your garden. Why?
Trees as a problem for the built environment
Let’s take a look at two major problems that trees can cause.
Building damage caused by tree roots
You may not be aware that the beautiful canopy above is mirrored in size by the root system below. “Most tree roots spread 2-3 times the radius of the canopy, and often reach out 5 times the radius of the tree canopy or more in dry conditions” in search of water and nutrients, according to one expert. This is no problem when the tree in question is sited far enough away from the house but trees close to buildings can cause potentially serious damage.
And if the proximity to buildings is compounded by the presence of clay soil that expands and contracts with the seasons, there is a real risk of structural movement of the foundations. Subsidence occurs when the roots manage to penetrate and destabilise the building’s foundations. The most obvious signs are large cracks in walls, misaligned doors and windows or sloping floors.
Of course, many trees are not dangerous at all. Among the ‘thirstiest’ trees are willow, poplar, elm and oak trees and it goes without saying that these should never be planted any where near a house. If you are in the process of buying a property with one of these trees in the garden, make sure you have an independent Building Survey or Specific Defect Report carried out. The latter is “written to the same level of detail as a Building Survey but covers specific issues such as dampness, cracking or timber defects,” says one surveyor and should provide peace of mind.
Home for pests that can enter the house
As nature lovers, we all appreciate the important role trees play in acting as natural habitats for many animal species. Trees support the lives of birds, small mammals and other wildlife organisms, being used for food, shelter and sites for reproduction, nesting, resting and hiding. But what if the wildlife that is being supported by the trees in your garden is unwanted pests – like rodents, woodworm and insects? While dead tree stumps and rotting woods are most likely to attract pests, healthy trees may do too.
Termites, for instance, live in trees and feed on timber and are among the most destructive pests in the world, though luckily not in our part of the world. They can attack structural timbers in the house and even cause ceilings and floors to collapse.
Rats and mice are known to carry diseases such as salmonella, toxoplasmosis and even plague, not something anyone wants to have in their garden or, worse, in their home. Rats have been known to climb into open vents or windows via trees that are close to the house. “Mice can squeeze through gaps less than 2cm in diameter and rats only need slightly more space, so any small hole to the outside can serve as a rodent gateway straight into your home,” warns an article from the BBC Wildlife Magazine.
Trees as a pleasure for your garden
On the other hand, it doesn’t do to get disheartened by the problems that trees near the house can cause. After all, they are beautiful living things that enrich nature all around us and should be regarded with wondrous awe and treated with respect. Provided you are aware of the potential risks and take measures to mitigate the negatives, there’s no reason why you cannot enjoy these obvious pleasures that our giant friends can bring:
Trees provide shade and shelter
A balance of light and shade is essential for every good home design, whether inside the house or in landscape gardening schemes. South and west facing spaces naturally get more sun than north and east facing spaces. Any existing trees in the garden provide shade and shelter naturally, or they can be planted into certain spots for that specific purpose.
Trees provide privacy and seclusion
Tree foliage is a great natural privacy screen, protecting your home from prying eyes and creating a safe environment for you and your family in which to feel free to live as you please. A secluded property behind trees and hedges can also be more burglar-proof, since there’s nothing to see to tempt opportunist thieves. Install motion sensor lights to provide an extra intruder deterrent at night-time.
Trees are important for the planet
Last and by no means least, remember that we need trees in the world, and we should do all we can to plant more. Trees are the lungs of the Earth, absorbing pollutants through their leaves, trapping contaminants in the air and turning carbon dioxide into oxygen. Bear in mind that the trees in your garden are more than an attractive natural feature, they are part of our overall ecosystem and they are needed to help our climate, impacting our atmosphere, water systems and weather patterns.