Removing Tree Roots Without Killing the Tree: Can It Be Done and How?

The roots in your lawn are important for drawing nutrients and hydration for the trees around your property. But when roots become unsightly or run the risk of damaging underground pipes and other infrastructure, is it possible to remove the problem roots without killing the tree?

What to Know About Removing Tree Roots

Understanding Tree Roots

A tree’s roots are an important part of its health, and they serve many purposes. Let’s explore some of the primary reasons why trees spread their roots the way they do.

A tree’s roots are first and foremost a tree’s circulatory system. Roots spread into the soil and soak in water, nutrients, and even oxygen, which are all necessary for a tree’s ongoing development. Most tree roots grow in the top six to 24 inches of soil, and they usually spread out two to four times further than the width of the trunk. This means a single tree can create hundreds of feet of roots that spread out radially.

There are two major types of root: perennial and feeder. Feeder roots are smaller and grow upward, toward the surface, in search of water, oxygen, and nutrients. Perennial roots grow much larger and act as water and nutrient storage for the tree. These larger roots also serve the other major purpose of a tree’s root system: anchoring the tree. A tree with a healthy root system is far more structurally sound, meaning it can grow larger and is less likely to be knocked over by the wind. All in all, the roots of a tree are critical for its health. Removing tree roots is a risky activity when considering the overall health of a tree.

Removing Tree Roots: Can It Be Done?

With all of the things we know about roots now, you might think the idea of removing them is a foregone conclusion. Fortunately, when left to the experts, there are ways of removing tree roots without killing the tree. Not every tree has roots that pose issues for homeowners, but many can if they aren’t planted properly. Some trees that have naturally shallow roots in the Nashville area include species of maple, beech, and willow trees. If you have trees like these, you might be seeing unsightly roots in your lawn. Not only do they make for an eyesore, but they pose a tripping risk and can greatly damage lawnmowers and other lawn equipment.

Many times, trees on properties aren’t planted with their root systems in consideration. Since we can’t travel through time and plant the trees over again, we need to know how to handle problem roots when they do crop up. How do you get rid of tree roots in your lawn without killing the tree? Just like with pruning a tree’s branches and limbs, removing roots requires a high degree of precision. As a natural rule of thumb, you can safely remove about 25% of a tree’s roots without killing it. Even following this rule is not a perfect science, however. Disease and pests can use damaged roots to enter a tree and spread within. It’s always very important to consult a skilled arborist when considering tree root removal.

How to Safely Remove Roots

So, can you remove tree roots without killing the tree? Probably not on your own, and it’s certainly not advisable to try to DIY. This is a task best left to the professionals, who know how to approach this task with care. Removing a tree’s visible surface roots, or deeper roots that threaten underground pipes for sewage or irrigation, can all be done safely by a skilled arborist. Here’s how they do it.

When removing surface roots, the ends of the roots cannot be exposed to the elements. Once an arborist cuts the roots away, they will usually cover the area with a mix of soil and compost and apply grass seed. This helps to keep pests and vermin from causing further damage to the root system. Another important axiom in root removal is balance. A tree’s roots help keep it standing upright, and if you remove roots only from one side, you risk throwing off its balance. Even if some roots aren’t visible on the other side of the tree, it’s a good idea to try and remove some from the soil on that side as well. It’s best to divide the root system into four sections and prune the roots evenly. Roots can be chipped away and cut with shovels and other implements. It’s not enough to simply chip away the visible roots; the whole root should be cut off from the tree. This helps ensure that disease doesn’t set in. Another important part of root removal is ensuring that you don’t remove roots too close to the tree. The closer a root is to the tree, the more important it is. In some cases, that may mean removing roots isn’t advisable.

When removing large roots that are causing issues with sewage pipes, irrigation, or sidewalks and driveways, more consideration needs to be made. These large roots provide a lot of support for a tree, and they also store much of its water. When removing problem roots, it’s important to dig down to them without harming the other roots around them. Roots can often form a tangled mass that spreads out from the base of a tree and can make it tricky to fully remove a root. No matter what, removing large roots should be done with as minimal damage as possible. Plumbers will often need to be called in for this job if the root is damaging the sewer line. They have the tools necessary for removing the root and will usually employ a safe method of removing the root and repairing the pipe. So while tree roots are incredibly important to a tree’s health, they can usually safely be removed if the circumstances call for it.

Removing a tree’s roots without killing the tree is entirely possible, but you need to exercise caution. Many DIY methods use harsh chemicals or just flat out don’t work and only waste your time and money. Ready to remove the tree roots bothering you safely and effectively? Call the experts at The Parke Company today.