Trees With a Story: Forest Tree Becomes Focal Point

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Warren and Karen Filley's blackjack oak, just outside their back door.
“There is something good to be said for saving a living organism that is most likely older than I am, or ever will be.” This perspective originates from Warren Filley and his wife Karen, Edmond residents with a sincere appreciation for trees. So sincere, in fact, that they built their Edmond home around a large, native blackjack oak in 1987, despite receiving advice to do the opposite.

The tree caught Warren’s eye when first purchasing the land. He could see that it had been there for a very long time – and was probably much older than he would witness any replacement tree grow up to be. “The tree was worth saving,” Karen Filley remembers. “It was natural and had beauty in and of itself. There was no need to take it down and plant another tree there.” Through the duration of their home’s construction, the valued blackjack oak remained unharmed, with protective fencing blocking activities from its critical root area. Once the home was built, a wooden deck was built to reduce the impact of foot traffic across the soil.

In 2011, opportunity once again arose to embrace the value of the tree and take measures to protect it. The original deck had deteriorated and was in need of replacement. Warren and Karen were once again faced with the challenge to preserve the health of their beloved tree while creating a new patio behind their home. Knowing the importance of using correct practices in order to minimize harm to a tree in a construction zone, Warren and Karen consulted Mark Bays, Oklahoma’s State Urban Forestry Coordinator. Mark helped them to design an aeration and watering system for their new stone patio that would provide roots beneath the patio with access to oxygen and water, reducing potential stress that may be incurred by this new disturbance. Mark says, “We discussed the footprint of the area and its proximity to the existing oak they wanted to protect and not harm during the construction process. I helped them design the aeration system that Warren put in below the deck.”
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PVC pipe with aeration holes for tree roots was laid underneath the new stone patio.
“Trees’ roots need a certain amount of air exchange through the soil in order to function and grow. This system is one way that keeps that process in place, and the tree has no idea that there has been any added fill that could otherwise lead to the ultimate suffocation of its root system. I’ve seen as little as 6 inches of fill around an established healthy oak tree be enough to kill it,” Mark explains. The aeration system basically consists of rows of PVC pipe laid perpendicular to the perimeter of the house. These pipes have holes drilled into them, and the ends of the pipes open out to the air above the mulched bed around the tree, just below the raised edge of the patio. Oxygen flowing into the ends of the pipes is readily absorbed by the roots of the tree, and gases given off by the roots flow out of the pipes back into the atmosphere. The Filley’s aeration system eliminates the problem of poor gas exchange through the soil surface. In addition, it includes drainage tubes through which water may be applied directly to the root area so the tree can receive the moisture it needs. Finally, the patio is also pervious, meaning that it is constructed of substrate that still allows for some limited water infiltration.
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Gravel was spread across the PVC pipe as a base for the pervious stone patio.

This is not the first aeration system of its kind that Mark Bays has encountered, and the method could be easily duplicated. He says, “This is something simple in design and concept that could be considered by others that might be looking to build around existing trees. I have seen this same kind of technology used in the construction of parking lots around trees, as well as a museum addition under a live oak tree that was 400-500 years old.” A similar system was also used for one of the most famous and beloved trees in the state of Oklahoma, the Survivor Tree, which Mark Bays has played an integral role in the preservation and care of.

The canopy of the blackjack oak has extended several feet since Warren and Karen first glimpsed the tree over 20 years ago. Withstanding ice breakage and damage from a strong wind storm years back, the tree has maintained its good health due to what they say is owed to putting the tree in the hands of professionals. Warren asserts, “I see no alternative to a Certified Arborist for tree care. You are dollars ahead to have preventative pruning and maintenance rather than wait for a storm and sure disaster.” “It is vital to the landscape to have professionals take care of it properly,” Karen adds. Overall, Warren and Karen feel that even if one knows generally what needs to happen, seeking advice from professionals is crucial to making sure a tree is cared for properly.

Warren reflects that the tree has “offered a home for animals as well as my family, and offers protection for our house from the west facing sun. I have always said that in Oklahoma it is not a good idea to have a west facing back yard, but the tree makes it possible.” Karen notes that the tree provides protection from the sun at nearly all parts of the day.

The pleasant environment created by the Filley’s oak goes beyond just the shade. It serves as the focal point of their patio, surrounded by gardens and adorned with hanging planters. Breakfast, summer cookouts and televised football are all enjoyed in the peaceful environment of the tree. Hummingbirds flit from the feeder hanging from a branch to the one outside the kitchen window. The oak serves as the gateway to a yard filled with lush gardens, water features and sculptures. Yet, this tree is the focus of Warren and Karen’s oasis.
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The blackjack oak surrounded by a pervious stone patio with a simple aeration system beneath.

In 2013, Warren and Karen Filley received an Edmond E-Tree Award for their exceptional efforts in preserving the blackjack oak on their property. All too often, trees become secondary to the use of a site. Few recognize that retaining existing tree canopy can add value beyond what they could imagine to a new development. The Filleys are a great example of what benefits may be achieved by visualizing a tree as a feature, rather than a hindrance. “It takes a long time for a tree to grow, mature and become such a wonderful addition to our community landscape,” says Mark Bays. “They can last for generations and are such an important makeup of the fiber of our neighborhoods. Don’t you think they deserve a little consideration in return?”

Do you know of a “tree with a story” in Edmond? Contact the Urban Forestry Department and your tree could end up in the next issue of Edmond Tree Mail!

**2nd and 3rd photos provided by Warren Filley.

Take a look at other topics in the September 2013 issue of Tree Mail.

Check out last season's "tree with a story".