Tree roots…What You Can’t See Can Hurt Your Tree

Roots are an important part of your tree. They help to stabilize a tree. They take up water and nutrients from the soil to help your tree grow. They are the one vital part of a tree that you can’t see. They can extend out double the size of your tree’s canopy.

Besides all the great things roots do, they can be damaging and problematic at times.  Here are some problems that you may encounter with tree roots:

Tree Root Problems

  • Roots that extend under walls, sidewalks, patios or driveways.  Large roots can damage walls, sidewalks, patios and drives by lifting them. One way to avoid this problem is to not plant trees close to these areas.  Give your trees plenty of room for roots to grow. If you do have a problem with roots going under a hardscaped area, you can often cut one root to stop the damage without destabilizing a tree. Cutting more than one can make a tree unstable though.


  • Girdling roots are roots that wrap around the trunk of a tree rather than spreading outward.  This often happens in the nursery pot if a tree is not moved to a bigger pot once it gets too large for its existing pot.  Check for roots coming out of the bottom of a nursery pot when your purchase a tree.  This is one way of knowing that the tree has been in the pot too long.  If the nursery allows you to remove the tree to check the roots, do it.  Look to see if the roots are growing out or wrapping around the trunk.  Once the tree is in the ground, it’s a lot harder to deal with the problem.   Girdling roots make it easier for trees to blow over in a strong wind because the roots are not extended out to anchor the tree. Always check the roots when you buy a tree to make sure they aren’t wrapped around the trunk.



  • Roots can get inside of sewer lines, irrigation lines and valve boxes.  Repairing a sewer line once roots have broken the line or gotten into them can be very expensive.  A small break or leak in a line can give roots an entry point to grow in the line and damage it more.  Regular checks of your lines can help keep a small problem from becoming a big issue.


sewer roots

These are a few of the most common and costly root problems to deal with.  Buying healthy trees with a good root system is the best way to avoid these issues.  Don’t let your trees become a liability rather than an asset on your property.


Deborah Munoz-Chacon
International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist
Let’s end 2016 with some sound gardening advice.
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