Down to the roots: How to care for tree roots

Tree roots partly covered by Autumn leaves

The root system of a tree performs some important functions. Not only do roots anchor trees in the soil, they also store and transport essential mineral and water. If you want your trees to thrive, you need to look after the roots.

 

Causes of root damage

A tree’s roots are often hidden below the soil, so it can be difficult to determine their condition. If you know what can cause root damage, you can decide whether you need to investigate further. The three main causes of root damage include:

 

  • Construction
  • Competing root systems, and
  • Disease

 

If the root system is damaged, a tree may not be able to absorb the water and nutrients it needs to grow. Severe damage will also threaten the tree’s stability and increase the risk of toppling.

 

Roots can be damaged by construction, competing root systems and root diseases. Root diseases, which are more difficult to diagnose, can impede the root system’s ability to absorb water, retain minerals, and provide structural support.

 

Signs of root damage

Trees are resilient, but if you notice any of these symptoms in your trees, consider getting them checked for root damage:

 

  • Small yellow leaves with signs of chlorosis

If your tree has a nutrient deficiency, it won’t be able to produce chlorophyll which is responsible for the green colour of leaves.

 

  • Slow or stunted growth

The rate of growth depends on the species of tree. However, if you notice that a particular tree isn’t growing as much as you’d expected to, it could be due to root damage.

 

  • White fungi, mushrooms and conks

Mushrooms or conks that appear at the base of the tree or white fungi under the bark are another sign to look out for when assessing the condition of tree roots.

 

  • Branch dieback

This is the name given to the progressive death of branches; starting from the tip and working inwards.

 

It’s best to schedule an appointment with a tree care professional if you suspect root damage. They may remove a root sample and analyse it to determine the cause. While healthy roots are light colour under the bark, diseased roots are often brown. Root disease can be very difficult to treat and so prevention is better than cure.

 

Root care tips

You can avoid root damage by following these tips:

 

  • Don’t buy trees that are ‘pot bound’ as the roots will have difficulty untangling themselves.
  • Try not to plant trees near concrete or paving. Even though tree roots do adapt to their environment, it does place a stress on them and may damage your pavement.
  • Don’t pave right up to the trunk of established trees. This will prevent the tree from absorbing the amount of water it has become accustomed to, and the tree will slowly start dying back. In time, if the tree survives, the paving will start to lift.
  • Make sure you leave enough space between the trees on your property to accommodate their root systems. Root systems can spread up to four times the diameter of the canopy.

 

A healthy root system has enough room to expand and doesn’t have to compete for water and nutrients. If you’re worried that you may have a root problem, Brands’ own certified horticulturist will be able to diagnose your trees and suggest a solution or treatment.