Damage to root systems can be devastating for trees and for your property. With weakened roots, trees can’t get enough water or nutrients, which can cause leaves and branches to die and fall on your home or property. A reduced root system will also impact the tree’s ability to withstand high winds, and can potentially lead to the felling of the entire tree. Fortunately, there are several ways that you and your tree care professionals can help mitigate root damage and prevent root-related tree problems.

 

Avoid Species with Aggressive Root Systems

One way to prevent many root-related problems is to choose your tree species wisely. Species with aggressive root systems, like ash, sweetgum, willow, and poplar trees, often get into trouble because their roots invade areas where they do not belong. Once that happens, you will have to remove those invasive roots. For example, if roots get into your sewer pipes, you will have to cut the roots within the pipe and poison the roots immediately outside the pipe. This root loss can be very traumatic for the tree. You would be much better off choosing species like Japanese maple and dogwood, which grow slowly and have less aggressive roots.

Ensure that Roots can Access Air and Water

Planting trees too close to various man-made structures, whether they be buildings, driveways, parking lots, etc., can be very damaging to root systems. Not only will the covered surfaces prevent sufficient water from accessing the tree’s roots, the weight of any structures can also cause soil compression and root death due to lack of oxygen. You should avoid parking vehicles underneath trees, even on unpaved ground, because of the danger of soil compression. If the soil around your tree has become compacted,a professional aborist can use special equipment to aerate it and restore proper oxygen flow.

Do Not Bury Root Collars

One of the most common mistakes in tree care occurs when the root collar (where the trunk meets the roots) gets buried, either with soil or with mulch. This causes problems with the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the roots and the tree, as well as increased vulnerability to fungi and pathogens that cause root disease. Buried root collars can also lead to root girdling, a condition in which shallow roots encircle the tree and eventually choke it.

Fertilize and Trim with Care

When done properly, fertilizing can enhance the beauty and growth of your tree. However, over-fertilizing or fertilizing with the wrong chemicals and nutrients can actual harm or even kill roots. Failing to trim trees properly can also lead to root problems. If the canopy becomes overdeveloped in comparison to the roots, the top-heavy tree will be more susceptible to wind damage. The root system will be unable to anchor the tree firmly in the ground, and in high winds it might even topple over.

These are just general guidelines. For more detailed advice on how to care for your tree’s roots, consult a tree care professional.