Urban Forestry: Old Trees in Residential Neighborhoods, Part 1

Old Schoolhouse Oak during inspection

Urban forestry often focuses on planting and management of young trees.  Very large, old trees are rare in urban settings outside of parks and cemeteries. Not so in the Bluegrass, where huge, ancient trees are abundant throughout our cities and towns.  In the Bluegrass, cities have grown up on land that used to be woodland pastures. The question for landowners, developers, and home buyers, is whether the huge trees can be kept, or must be removed.

Very large Bluegrass trees require a lot of space.  Developers need to carefully plan for protection of the tree or trees, and must have a written development plan that is binding on all contractors.

Picture of old bur oak
Initial inspection of Old Schoolhouse Oak included extensive soil samples
Venerable Trees, Inc. has developed a tree preservation plan for a magnificent bur oak in a farm scheduled for development.  We will be providing periodic updates on the project as it proceeds.  The photos below show the pre-development inspection of the tree.

The Lexington Herald-Leader has covered the story of this tree for many years, including articles in 2013 about City Council approval of the project, a  2013 article about planning for the new development, and 2008 articles about an earlier development plan and its rejection by the Council.  The difference between the 2008 plan and the development now underway is the willingness of the developers, Ball Homes, to respond forthrightly to citizen concerns about the project.  It was consistent and vigorous participation by local citizens that resulted in a better plan.

Old Schoolhouse Oak surrounded by shrubs, other trees and pavement.
Prior to development, we carefully inspected the tree and evaluated its health. We dug a large number of holes to look at root distribution and soil factors. We found that the tree, like many ancient Bluegrass trees, is deeply rooted and has very few surface roots. The soils on this site are exceptionally deep, up to 6 feet.

The photos show the tree and some of the inspection work before the tree protection plan was developed.  Click on a photo to go to a high-resolution gallery of photos of this project.