Tree roots often times get a bad wrap, they get blamed for many structure problems (uprising the sidewalk, cracking foundations, etc.).  The tree’s roots are not always the “root” cause of these problems.  There are some practices that you may follow to help reduce these types of situations.

1.  Planting Location

2.   Cultural (Nurturing) Practices

Unfortunately, in many cases, trees are not planted within these guidelines stated above.  What can be done in these instances?  Root pruning may be a viable option for the tree in question.  Root pruning is exactly as it sounds, removing the roots below the soil surface, it is often used in pre-construction activities to minimize long-term impact to trees.  It can also be used in certain circumstances when tree roots and structures are against each other.  A Certified Arborist would be best to make the determination if root pruning is a viable option, they would take into account the type of the tree, size, and proximity to the structure.  If it is too close to the structure, within a few feet, root pruning may be too aggressive of an approach in regards to the amount of root loss.

For more information on tree roots and structures, you can read a great article at the Renegade Gardener website –

So, next time you’re planning to put in that new pool in the back yard, new back patio deck, or any other excavation project, make sure to address the needs of the surrounding trees to prolong their health and longevity!

Leave a comment if you’ve ever run into a situation involving tree roots and structures!

One Response

  1. Hi, I am working on a project to rehabilitate a street that has severe uplifting from mature (I believe they are Elm) trees. They were planted in 3 feet parkways and the roots bulge up, lifting the sidewalk and driveways a foot or more in some places. Do you have experience with methods other cities might have used to design a street around these trees to save them? These residents love their trees.

    Thank you!

    1. It is not uncommon for cities to run into issues with tree roots conflicting with adjacent pavement, especially when dealing with large mature trees planted decades ago. Trees bring value to neighborhoods, provide a sense of establishment and are loved by the residents. Unfortunately, once the roots begin heaving pavement, trees also bring tripping hazards, additional costs to the city for street maintenance and can impact the overall health of the trees. There are several factors that will play a role in projects which involve pavement repair/replacement and tree preservation. Tolerances to construction activity differ between tree species. Applied preservation actions should be appropriately decided based on species and overall tree health and vigor. It’s important to work cooperatively with the engineer’s design and provide the requirements needed for a long-term healthy tree root system. It is recommended that an ISA Certified Arborist, ISA Board Certified Master Arborist or Consulting Arborist is involved with this project from pre-construction phase, construction phase and post-construction phase.

      We recommend reviewing the listed resources below which should help to provide additional information regarding trees, infrastructures and industry standards.

      a. Urban, James. Up By Roots: Healthy Soils & Trees in the Built Environment. International Society of Arboriculture, 2008. Print


      c. Tree Care Industry Association, Inc. ANSI A300 Part 5: Tree Shrub, and Other Woody Plant Management – Standard Practices (Management of Trees and Shrubs During Site Planning, Site development, and Construction.) 2012. Print
      **COMPANION PUBLICATION TO ABOVE RESOURCE: Best Management Practices: Managing Trees During Construction. International Society of Arboriculture, 2008. Print

      d. Tree Care Industry Association, Inc. ANSI A300 Part 8: Tree Shrub, and Other Woody Plant Management – Standard Practices (Root Management.) 2013. Print

      e. Tree Care Industry Association, Inc. ANSI A300 Part 9: Tree Shrub, and Other Woody Plant Management – Standard Practices (Tree Risk Assessment a. Tree Structure Assessment.) 2011. Print

      **COMPANION PUBLICATION TO ABOVE RESOURCE: Best Management Practices: Tree Risk Assessment. International Society of Arboriculture, 2011. Print

      Anne Dalrymple
      ISA Board Certified Master Arborist, IL-4275BT
      ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualified
      Kramer Tree Specialists

  2. A good rule of thumb is to allow 3-4 times the width of the canopy for roots to grow. This rule of thumb is often used for urban settings and can be 4-6 times in a rural setting.

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