Tree roots are often blamed for a variety of issues because they are notoriously intrusive. The primary function of a root is to seek out moisture, oxygen, and nutrients. Some varieties of tree do this more aggressively than others and can create problems along the way. For the average tree, the root system spreads out as far as the branches in the crown. With an invasive species of tree, those roots can shoot out even farther. Homeowners should watch for the following tree root concerns to avoid costly repairs and damage:
INVASIVE TREE ROOTS AND PLUMBING
While tree roots can not typically cause water pipes to break, they will take advantage of pipes that are already cracked or aging. This is the most common problem caused by tree roots. Naturally, a leaking pipe or sewer system attracts roots because they are drawn to the available water. Once inside the pipe the root can grow very rapidly because of the increased oxygen, moisture, and nutrients. As the roots progress they can cause further damage and clog up the waterway. In most cases, the pipes will need to be cleared mechanically by an experienced plumber. A certain type of foam can also be used to inhibit root growth. But it is important to note that if the broken pipes are not properly replaced or repaired the problem will reoccur. Tree removal is also an option for homeowners to consider in this situation to avoid future damage.
PAVEMENT, PATIOS, & DRIVEWAYS
For most trees, the majority of their root system can be found in the top 18 – 24” of the soil. Because of this, tree roots often conflict with other landscape elements it they are planted too close. This is especially a concern in compacted soil because the roots are forced to stay even closer to the surface. Water can become trapped under concrete and hard structures creating a desirable environment for roots. When that moisture is discovered, the roots will exploit the space between the soil and pavement forming a gap. Ultimately the roots cause the pavement to shift and crack.
Tree removal is usually the best solution to stop the recurrence of damage. If tree removal is not desirable, a skilled arborist can prune the invading roots and install a physical deterrent called a root barrier. However, there are also risks involved with this method. Some roots may be entwined and difficult to untangle. If too many roots are removed the tree will struggle to survive and eventually decline. It can also create instability in the tree and cause it to topple or lean. There is a delicate balance between the roots and the canopy of a tree. Tree have on average about 4 – 7 primary roots, so cutting one of them a few feet from the trunk can remove a critical portion of a root system.
TREE ROOTS AND THE FOUNDATION OF YOUR HOME
It is a misconception that tree roots can destroy the foundation of a home. The reality is, tree roots are rarely the problem. They will penetrate and grow into existing cracks, but they are not powerful enough to cause structural damage. In rare circumstances tree roots can compound soil instability during drought periods because they absorb even more moisture. If a home has a shallow foundation, and the soil underneath shrinks and expands drastically, cracks can occur.
GIRDLING TREE ROOTS
Just like it sounds, a girdling root is a root that wraps around the base of the tree trunk and essentially strangles it. The girdling root starves the tree of important water and nutrients. Over time the tree will begin to dieback. So how do these roots develop? An inexperienced nursery is usually to blame for the improper root formation. Nurseries should always follow best practices when moving saplings into larger containers. Every time the tree is transplanted, the roots should be carefully pruned to removed girdling roots. This includes when the tree is planted in your yard. If this is not done, the tree will likely not survive longer than 10 years after planting. Branching Out Tree Service always uses the best local nurseries for the trees we plant to ensure their survival.
Of course, girdling roots can always occur regardless of proper care. An experienced tree care professional can attempt to save the tree by pruning and cutting away the girdling root. However, as mentioned above, it is difficult to predict if this will benefit the tree or if removing the root will lead to further decline.
TREE ROOTS IN DESERT SOIL
Shallow roots can become even more concerning in dry climates like Tucson. The Sonoran Desert makes for a complex growing environment for trees because our soil can consist of rock-hard caliche, sand and gravel, or sticky clay. In these conditions, tree roots develop even closer to the surface because that is where the most oxygen, water, and nutrients can be found. For this reason, it is extremely important to conduct routine maintenance and pruning on desert trees. With shallow surface roots and a heavy canopy, desert trees are more likely to topple over during high wind and monsoon storms. To avoid storm damage, trees must be trimmed to allow for even weight distribution and air flow throughout the branches.
DO YOU HAVE TREE ROOT CONCERNS?
Our tree care experts can evaluate your tree or root system and address any issues that you may have. If necessary, we can install root barriers and help with girdling roots. Branching Out can provide safe tree removal and stump grinding services. We can also trim and maintain your trees to keep them strong and resilient.