Rules for cutting big tree roots

This article is not going to answer every question that exists about root cutting. It should not be considered the ultimate authority on the subject. But what follows are the rules I have lived by and that most tree experts agree on.

Photo: Randy Lemmon

As I offer these “root-pruning” tips, I recall a “people hear only what they wanna hear” instance during the GardenLine radio program some time back. A listener called in to take issue with me recommending that “only one big tree be taken out per year.” I don’t!  But I have, for years, suggested taking out only one big root per year from mature trees. 

So, I want to cover this again, because that call did spawn some serious questions that need to be answered before anyone jumps out there with an axe or machete or chainsaw. (By the way, a chain saw should never be used in or around dirt, unless you wanna ruin it.)  The first rule for cutting out one big root per year is that it will be an effort in futility if you don’t first get the tree on a deep-root watering and feeding program. It’s the same deep-root protocol I have rung the bell on for the last 20 years. If you have an unquenchable desire to start severing roots, please read this tip sheet first. 

The big roots slanted up towards the tree’s trunk at its base are the tree’s “flare.” Other big roots pushing above ground are anchor roots. They are pushing themselves up to the soil surface in a desperate effort to find moisture. That’s why the tree needs deep-root watering. And since they are truly “anchoring” the tree, you need to heed the rule for only pruning out one of them per year! 

Theoretically, you shouldn’t do this kind of work yourself, unless you have real experience. First, it’s actually a much harder job than it may seem. Plus, if you get overzealous you could actually do more harm than good. And, again … if you do this without starting a deep-root watering and feeding regimen, it’s a worthless project.  If you want a professional tree company to do root removal, I recommend Affordable Tree Service

Finally, if you feel a need to “root prune” because you fear that roots are heading toward a sidewalk, a driveway or the house foundation, you actually need a root barricade. To successfully stop concrete movement in sidewalks and driveways, or to prevent roots from sucking all the moisture from under a foundation, you would need to cut more than one big root.  So, a professional should be called in for root barricading. I don’t normally recommend barricading to protect sidewalks, but for driveways and foundations, give me a call on GardenLine so we can hone in on who might be the best to contact in your area.

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