The Root of Your Problems

Why a tree's foundation is so important hazardous trees

Maybe you’ve seen examples of root problems in your neighborhood. If you notice large cracks or “lifting up” of roadways, sidewalks, driveways and patios…and there are one or more large trees in the same area, chances are the overgrown trees are the “root cause” of the problem. These roots will need to be pruned.

Here are some frequently asked questions I receive, concerning root pruning:

What is root pruning?
Root pruning is the trimming back of tree roots to stop their encroachment on foundations, sidewalks, driveways and patios. Root pruning may also be necessary for new construction like room or pool additions and when developing a property. It can be accomplished by cutting back the problem roots with a hand saw or by machine.Buyer beware most tree service companies and arborist will use a stump grinder to cut the roots,I would demand the use of a root pruning machine,if they don't have one find someone that does.

Why do roots need to be pruned?
Tree roots often create problems for cement structures that are in the vicinity of trees. The reason for this is simple. Roots are attracted to water because it’s necessary for growth. Because of its makeup, cement absorbs water. When cement cracks, water is let in making the area even more attractive to roots. Since the roots are stronger than the cement, they push the cement up.

Can root pruning be accomplished in one session?
Yes, most times it can be completed in one session, because the root is usually only affecting one area. But there are times when root pruning can take two, three or more cuttings to complete the process. It’s important to make sure that the tree remains stable and cutting too much of the roots off in any one cutting can adversely affect this stability.

Can I do the root pruning myself or will it require a professional?
In most cases it’s best to contact an arborist for assistance, because they have the knowledge, experience and high-powered root pruning equipment to do the job. However if you have a small project (like just one root that is causing all the damage) you may be able to prune the root yourself. Just use a metal probe to locate the root, then dig up around it and use a hand saw to cut back the root. If you have many roots it’s probably not worth tackling it yourself. It will be a lot of work and you’ll risk causing damage to your tree. Remember, just one bad root pruning can kill a tree.

How much does root pruning cost?
Each tree is different, so it’s hard to estimate. Most tree service companies charge by the foot. The minimum charge to do the work will usually run about $150.00.

How long will a root pruning last?
It will last for an average of 5 years. However some fast growing tropical and subtropical trees have very aggressive root growing rates and they may have to be pruned again in about three years.

How can I avoid root pruning in the future?
If your tree’s roots have been a problem in the past, chances are you won’t be able to. However you can significantly increase the time between root prunings by putting in root barrier system. We use a root barrier fabric that contains an herbicide to prohit cell division and new root growth in the area. This barrier lasts a minimum of ten years and they have been known to restrict root growth for as much as twenty years.

Jon Wilbur is an ISA Certified Arborist and co-owner of Pinellas Tree Service, in Clearwater.

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Copyright, 2005, All Rights Reserved

Jon Wilbur