Guest Rant by Ginny Stibolt, the Transplanted Gardener

I don’t have cable and don’t watch HGTV, except rarely on other people’s TVs.  So maybe I’ve missed some of the details, but it appears that the landscaping for their 2010 green home in Plymouth, Mass. sets a bad example for their audience and the homebuilders that they are trying to coach to be greener.

The house itself has some good green features and the neighborhood is leaving much of the land undeveloped.  I love the Cape Cod and the Islands house designs and actually owned a house on the Vineyard in a previous life.  But that landscaping is another story. 

Here’s their most recent snowy photo.  Those long shadows of neighboring trees indicate to me that this house site was carved out of a wooded area. These earlier photos show that sod was laid around the pine trees. [Most photos in this post are no longer available.]

And we finally get back to their earliest photo showing the massive footprint gouged into the landscape.

Here are some of the problems that I have with this:

Transplanting such large trees takes huge machines, which can’t be green.  Plus it looks like they’ve been dug from mature forests, not tree farms.  (It is possible that these trees were dug from this site and then replanted, which would lessen their footprint.)

I don’t know what the success rate is for these monsters, but recommended irrigation schedule for smaller transplanted trees depends on size.  Suggested irrigation schedules for planting trees:

  • Each time you irrigate, it’s best to water with three gallons per inch trunk caliper (the diameter of the trunk at six inches above the root ball of saplings). For example, use six gallons for a two-inch caliper tree. Apply slowly, so all water soaks into the root ball.
  • If a tree is two to four caliper inches, the best practice is to water daily for one month; every other day for
    the next three months; and after that water weekly until established.
  • If a tree is more than four caliper inches or if it’s a palm, the best practice is to water daily for six weeks;
    every other day for the next five months; weekly after that until established.
  • After the initial period, continue to supplement irrigation for your tree during drought conditions for at least a year. Two or three is better, especially for larger trees.

Maybe the HGTV crew will irrigate the trees with enough water for the months between now and when they give it away.  But will the new owner carry on the irrigation and will people watching this process on TV actually irrigate with the large amount of water necessary for years to come?  Wouldn’t it be greener to plant more
reasonably sized trees?  This would show regular homeowners that patience and planning are part of creating a new landscape.  The old saw of planting the largest trees you can afford has been shown to be false, because larger trees have a much lower survival rate.

Wouldn’t it have been greener to leave a few groups of trees from the original landscape?  Yes, the construction crew would have had to avoid those areas and that might have caused some extra effort.  Besides the time, energy and water required for transplanting large trees: a) islands of the original soil and its ecosystem would have been conserved; and b) groups of trees are more resistant to wind and are more drought tolerant than single trees.

Pine trees love acidic soil and lay down nice acidic pine needles.  Turf grass hates all that acidity and the shade.  Forever raking pine needles from turf is a maintenance nightmare.  Showing a turf area under pines as the ideal landscape perpetuates the lawn myth.  I will give the landscapers some credit for planting shrubs under the trees on the right side of the house along the walkway (and that the walkway is made of permeable paving), but why put a line of sod along the walkway.  It’ll be a pain to care for and it won’t do well there.

This type of instant landscaping sets false hopes and expectations for regular homeowners and run-of-the-mill builders who try to emulate these practices.  It’s much more sustainable to leave more of the original landscape augmented by planting smaller trees with greater chances of survival. I think HGTV is setting a poor example in this case.

University of Florida horticulture professor Ed Gilman maintains the landscape plants website, with detailed and scientifically-proven
information on tree establishment with irrigation details, pruning and other care of woody plants:
See especially all of the sections on tree establishment, including on amount and frequency of irrigation after planting