Tree Root Care
Strength from the Ground Up
November 17, 2022
When it comes to tree care, many people focus on what they can see. If branches are broken or bare, we prune and move on. However, this may not get to the root of the problem. Many issues originate below the surface. Learn more about proper root care and what you can do to strengthen your tree from the ground up.
The Importance of Roots
It’s easy to notice when your tree has a problem with the bark, branches, and leaves. These signs may show issues originating from pests, sun damage, or storms. However, it’s also important to consider the structure of trees. A trunk is only as sturdy as the roots allow it to be.
Tree roots grow horizontally underground and typically stretch over double the diameter of the tree’s crown. Many roots stay close to the surface, no deeper than a few feet underground. This is why they can sometimes cause issues with sidewalks and other pathways, especially if they’re not properly taken care of.
Roots act as an anchor and store water and nutrients. Thin feeder roots absorb what the tree needs from the surface and are naturally replaced throughout the lifecycle of the tree. The problems occur when these roots are damaged or can’t absorb enough water or nutrients. The signs may be similar to other tree issues, but the solution lies within the soil.
Determining Root Damage
Even though we can’t see the roots underground, the tree may be showing signs of root damage from above the surface. Some of the symptoms to look for include:
- Dead branches
- Discolored leaves
- Early leaf drop
Yes, these signs are similar to many other tree issues, but it’s an indication that your tree needs something. If you don’t see any other signs of disease or pests, it’s best to focus your attention on the soil.
Soil compaction is one of the main causes of root damage. If nutrients and water can’t easily flow through the soil and reach the roots the tree is in trouble. Soil can become compacted with heavy foot traffic, construction, and poor maintenance. Aerate the soil around your tree to help break up any compaction. Keep the mulch to a minimum to make it easier for water and nutrients to penetrate the extra layers.
Soil depth is another factor to consider in root health. Since roots spread out close to the surface, adding more soil or mulch on top limits the amount of water and oxygen available. Pay close attention to how much soil and mulch you add around a tree, especially in the area directly under the crown.
Water intake, both above and below the soil, is another variable in proper root care. Too much water is just as bad as not enough. Water is even more important in the first year after a tree is planted. Drought conditions also have a great effect on unestablished trees.
Proper Root Care
In addition to limiting soil compaction, depth, and overwatering, there are a few other factors to keep in mind when it comes to root care.
Roots need space. When planting a tree, keep in mind the area around it. Ideally, you want a tree to be far enough away from structures to prevent damage to both the plant and the building in the future. But giving a tree space is also important for the roots. It needs as much room below the surface for roots to spread out without running into utility lines, pools, or walkways.
Roots need air. While mulching around a tree is important, it’s equally important to know how much to use and what materials are best. Natural products, like wood chips, are ideal. Keep the plastic products you use for weed control away from trees. These barriers may help weeds from popping up, but they also limit the amount of water, oxygen, and nutrients from reaching roots.
To learn more about how to care for your specific type of tree or if you suspect it may have a root issue, contact Elite Tree Care for a consultation.