GIMME SHELTER- Hole in none: Put tree next to, not in your deck

Dave Rosene
Certified Arborist & General Manager,Van Yahres Tree Company


Q: I built my backyard deck around an existing tree, a birch about a foot in diameter, but now the tree has died. I've cut the tree down and covered the hole with a pot, but I'd like to replace the tree. I'm just not sure how it should be done or what kind of tree I should plant. Any advice?

A: Generally, building a deck around a tree isn't a great idea. Trees need to have room to grow, and you'll keep having to change the size of the hole as it does. Also, if you cut the hole too wide it can be dangerous. 

The tree could also damage your deck. I built a deck around a tree once, a pine tree, and every time the wind blew hard it would pull the deck flooring up and stress the floor joists. And years down the road, if you ever want to remove the tree, it can be difficult and expensive. We took down a tree surrounded by a deck in Glenmore not long ago, a big oak, and we had to pluck it out with a huge crane. We wouldn't have had that problem if it hadn't been surrounded by a deck.

While it can certainly make sense to build a deck around a tree, especially if the tree is nice and you really want the deck space, I wouldn't go out of my way to find a tree to build a deck around. For starters, it won't be easy to get the old root ball out and the new one in. You may need to remove a portion of the deck to get a stump grinder in there, as you'll need to remove most of the old root ball before you plant the new tree. Plus, you'll need room to work to make sure the soil is well-prepared for your new tree.

Frankly, I'd recommend covering the hole and putting a tree beside the deck. It'll provide the same kind of shade, and if you plant the tree in the right spot, you'll feel like it's growing right out of the deck. The only benefit of having it rise directly out of the deck, really, is the cool factor.

That said, if you still want a tree in your deck, I recommend buying a small river birch, as they are fairly fast growing and sturdy.