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Old 09-26-2012, 03:32 PM
 
Location: Grosse Ile Michigan
30,274 posts, read 74,665,775 times
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We need to put quite a lot of fill in our back yard. Our house is near the end of a very long slope (maybe half a mile long). Adjoiing properties drained across our property and out the front. Now our house is right in the draingage path. The grading on civil engineers grading plan was never completed so while the house is high enough and the ground level is high around the house and sloping away, water collects in the back yard which was never graded to the designed elevations. We finally got some free fill dirt to complete the grading plan and re-direct the water. Finally to my question.

We have some decent trees in the back yard. One is a crabapple, one a willow, three black walnuts, a couple are elm and some cottonwood. We do not care about the cottonwood, it grows like weeds, but we would like to preserve the other trees. We learned when we put the house in that changing the grade will kill the black walnut trees, even older trees. We want to save as many of the trees as possible. Finally to my question.

Option 1. We simply fill around the trees and leave their immediate area unfilled. This will create a depression and water will collect there. The tree will be sitting in a pond an inch or two deep for many weeks of the year. However the roots will not end up deeper in the ground than they were.

Option 2. We could just fill around the trees to the same extent as anything else. Thus, water will not collect around the trees, but the roots and base of the tree will now be deeper under ground.

Option 3. We could not fill immeditely around the trees right now, hold some dirt back and slowly fill the depression adding an inch or so a year until the area is flush with the other ground. The idea is this will give the trees time to slowly adjust to the deeper soil cover. No idea whether this will help.

Option 4. Forget it, there is no way to save the trees, cut them down and plant new ones after the fill is placed.

Option 5. You give me some better idea that will keep the trees alive.

Our soil is super dense clay. There is a layer of top soil that varies from a few inches to almost two feet deep above the clay. We get a lot of rain. I do not know the number of inches, but all spring and part of the summer the back yard has standing water in much of it. The water does not settle into the ground much, it just sits until it evaporates. The grading changes will allow it to drain down the side of the property and into the ditch out front.

Killing the willow is not an option. Our best dog ever is buried under that willow. It is in the corner of the yard and if it is likely to kill it to fill in there, we will just leave that area low and let it get swampy part of the year rather than loose the tree. (The willow is about six years old and maybe 30-40 feet tall)

Any suggestions to save our trees?

Tanks
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Old 09-26-2012, 04:58 PM
 
Location: Connecticut is my adopted home.
2,395 posts, read 3,628,981 times
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How much fill are we talking here? Pretty much any fill that climbs up on the trunk bole will injure if not kill a tree eventually. If you are in northern country death is assured by deepening the roots even a small amount anywhere within the drip line of the tree making option 2 a drawn out version of number 4. Number 1 might also become a drawn out version of number 4 in clay soil for your crab, walnuts and elm because the the water covered roots will likely drown the tree depending n when and how long the water sits on the ground.

Have you considered a drainage swale with a curtain drain to move water to the street or a rain garden? IOW lowering a section of yard to collect water and either draining it away (swale) or letting it be (rain garden or temporary pond) using high water consumers like cottonwood, flag, water lily, ferns, sedge, weeping willow to suck it up in an orderly fashion rather than raising the grade. There is a lot of information on the net about both concepts. We've had both done on two properties to save old growth trees and have been happy with the results.

I'd be very leery about adding soil anywhere near your trees. I saw devastating results when a developer shoved a bunch of dirt around some old birch, spruce and aspen. Within two years the damage was evident though I warned him. Within four years they all had to be cut down.

Last edited by AK-Cathy; 09-26-2012 at 05:08 PM..
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Old 09-26-2012, 08:40 PM
 
Location: ๏̯͡๏﴿ Gwinnett-That's a Civil Matter-County
2,118 posts, read 6,075,621 times
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Yeah if not a swayle then some actual storm drains.

You don't want to go burying the trees.

It sounds like you're going to need a better solution anyway. Even if the trees survived long term, they may not like constantly wet soil.

Last edited by cittic10; 09-26-2012 at 08:50 PM..
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Old 09-27-2012, 12:11 AM
 
Location: Sarasota FL
6,864 posts, read 11,268,882 times
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If you constructed a 'well' around the trees, diameter as wide as the drip line and as high as needed for the fill, would installing 6" septic field drain type pipe or a solid pipe from the well draining to a lower area work?
the willow may be able to handle a wetter area but not the other trees. And piling fill around them will kill them
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Old 09-27-2012, 12:31 AM
 
Location: rain city
2,957 posts, read 12,283,381 times
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This doesn't answer your question[s] but....

If it were me facing your situation I'd really just ditch the trees. IMHO none of the tress you listed are anything I would try to save on my property. In fact if I did have these trees on my property, I'd probably try to get rid of them under any circumstance.

I hate black walnut trees. They get huge. They look crappy and ugly. Their walnuts can't be cracked with an anvil and a sledgehammer, AND black walnut trees reek tannic acid everywhere around them killing everything in their range. Under the area of a black walnut there will be no grass, no groundcover, no bushes, no flowers, no nothing. Bare ground only.

The willow: Get rid of it. If it is within 1/4 mile of your house or any kind of plumbing pipe, the willow will find its way in. They are sewer pipe destroyers extrardinaire. If you like replacing water lines and sewer lines you will love this willow. If not, chop it down. They are a trash tree. Very undesirable species.

In general--the crabapple, the willow, the cottonwood, the black walnut--are not considered desirable tree species. Don't know what kind of elm you have, but the best rating I would give to any elm tree is 'meh'. Not toxic or invasive, but usually not very beautiful trees.

Unless it is an extremely difficult climate, you can find many better varieties of trees than any of these. Mourn not if they croak. Plant something better.
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Old 09-27-2012, 06:24 AM
 
2,063 posts, read 7,403,559 times
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To be able to give you any real usable information I would want to see at least a picture or two of both the slope, the tree locations and distances apart as well as distance from the house and current drainage patterns. Verbal descriptions, even when accurate, leave a lot of mistaken impressions. At this point it sounds like an area that at one time was draining has now been obstructed by the grading done to build your home and created a wetland. Your choices are to create a drainage of some kind (like a combination of swales and french drains) or to begin planting wetland plants and trees.

Many trees will not tolerate wet root conditions for more than a few years before succumbing to rots and diseases. Some can withstand more than others and can thrive near wetlands or occasional flooded states like wetlands better. These are referred to as Facultative Species or Facultative Upland Species. The Willow is in the first category and will survive your described conditions well as long as you don't raise the soil level around its trunk in any way. Black Walnuts are the latter category which means they can take periodic sitting water but do better in drier conditions (uplands). The crab apple will not tolerate the wet conditions and it will succumb to diseases. Elms also are Facultative Upland.

Black Walnuts are commonly avoided by gardeners who want to plant common garden plants because of its toxicity to all but a few plants. It produces juglone, a toxic compound which is strongest in its roots and permeates the ground, although you will also find it in the nuts and spring buds in pretty high concentrations. The list of what survives its plant toxin is far shorter than what it kills (it does include crabapple as a tolerant species). Many people who love the nuts will plant it far away from anything else and in isolation. Removing it is an option but its toxins will linger for years to come as the roots rot away.

I believe you really need to get some professional assessment of the drainage and wetland conditions before you decide on trees and shrubs that need to go or stay. Local ordinances may also require permitting to work in and change a wetland depending on where you live; even a newly created one by building can be subject to regulations in many communities. Then decide it you really want those particular trees to stay and if maybe there are better choices to plant over a period of time.
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Old 09-27-2012, 01:20 PM
 
Location: Connecticut is my adopted home.
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Local ordinances may also require permitting to work in and change a wetland depending on where you live; even a newly created one by building can be subject to regulations in many communities.

Speaking of which: In our community (also a high rain and snow melt area) the city gives grants and tax credits for partial funding of new rain gardens or temporary ponds that retain water rather on the property than send it to the street and storm drain system. Unfortunately our rain garden was in existence before the program was initiated. Check around. I agree with a professional approach or at least a consultation.

As far as the black walnut trees go, we have another property with a bunch of black walnuts and some of those trees are gorgeous, some ratty. We have cut down all but the best of them. Though we aren't fond of these nuts, a freebie Craigslist takes care of them. Folks will come out and rake them up for the nuts. The juglone will be around for a while in the roots and soil even in cut areas but we have zero bare spots even under the huge trees. Many lovely plants are tolerant of juglone and grow just fine under a black walnut canopy. All it takes is a little Google search to find out what those plants are, as there are a number of references. If you want to save those trees don't be dissuaded by people that don't appreciate them if you do. If you decide to cut them down, the wood is very valuable if the truck section is 8-10' or more growing straight up rather than leaning. Good luck with your project.
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Old 09-27-2012, 02:30 PM
 
Location: WA
5,601 posts, read 23,812,206 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by d4g4m View Post
If you constructed a 'well' around the trees, diameter as wide as the drip line and as high as needed for the fill, would installing 6" septic field drain type pipe or a solid pipe from the well draining to a lower area work?
the willow may be able to handle a wetter area but not the other trees. And piling fill around them will kill them
Best option for the trees... just a lot of work to do and manage the resulting look.
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Old 09-27-2012, 06:45 PM
 
Location: North of Canada, but not the Arctic
18,293 posts, read 16,275,967 times
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This is the house that is 150 years old? If it has lasted that long, why is there suddenly a problem? Or have your neighbors filled in their yards which means they are now diverting water to your yard? By you filling in your yard, will that divert water into their yards? Maybe you need to get your neighbors together and say, "Instead of us all competing with each other to have the highest elevation, would you mind lowering your yards at least in some areas so that we could have more equitable drainage?" Maybe you can create artificial streams between properties?

Hard to tell without seeing the layout.
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Old 09-28-2012, 11:10 AM
 
Location: Connecticut is my adopted home.
2,395 posts, read 3,628,981 times
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Coldjensens,

Your dilemma has me thinking. I am a professional gardener and I had a chance to get a look first hand at what happens when more permeable fill is put over hardpan or clay in a wet sloped area. I was digging a hole for a shrub on a mild slope for a client this summer and being a firm believer in deep and wide for planting holes, I got to the fill line when digging down. A slow current of water was working it's way down the slope between the fill and the clay line and it started filling the bottom of my hole. Fortunately this shrub will root in the fill, our rooting zones being shallow due to cold soils. In the past this homeowner has lost at least a dozen large blue spruce to drowning and had to elevate the treed area into a terrace to replant.

In answer to the above question, at least here, any time anything is built on the top of or a higher section of a slope, it changes the area's hydrodynamics and formerly dry lots get swamped or wet lots get wetter. Particularly true as a result of commercial developments where large roof areas and paved parking lots create a lot of run-off even when on a storm drain system and it's very hard to prove where the extra water is coming from. Anecdotally you know, they built x-mart up the hill and my basement started flooding type of thing. It sounds from the initial post like the house is relatively recently built and that the OP has been dealing with water and maybe now even more water as the area gets built up for quite some time but as noted elsewhere, the devil is in the details.

A slap it together, put lipstick on a pig developer bought several low lying lots next to our previous home in an older neighborhood. The lots were considered for years to be unbuildable. The developer cleared the building areas of trees and then proceeded to shove literally tons of fill in the low spots and finally to add insult to injury he routed all of the guttering on the finished buildings to underground piping which led to the back corner of the lot adjacent to ours. We noted our backyard flooding that next spring where in the past it had been bone dry. We called him and said, "Unacceptable." After some "persuasion", he ended up digging a large dry well to handle the diverted water. We didn't have another problem but those buildings have standing water in the crawl spaces in the spring where ours, a few feet higher was bone dry and most of the remaining trees were killed by the fill. Bad juju.

Water and drainage is tricky. Good luck to the OP. Let us know how what you decide to do.
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