Tree Roots: How They Grow, Where They Grow, and How to Remove Them

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Trees are an intricate part of our everyday lives and it’s no wonder that we want these beautiful beings of nature in our back yards, our parks, and even in our cities. They provide shade, fresh air, and a sense of peace in busy spaces. However, actively growing roots that stabilize a healthy tree can cause problems, especially in urban areas. Roots from trees that have been planted too close to buildings or other structures can invade sewer systems causing blockages, cracked pavement, and damage to building structures. As well, if a tree is cut down, the roots that remain in the ground can be inconvenient for future projects such as building or landscaping.

Removing tree roots that cause these kinds of damages can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but it is important to remove them from certain areas to avoid further damage or risk. Different removal methods should be used depending on the type of root system, the location of the roots, and the size of the roots.

The first step is to identify the tree roots and how they grow. Tree roots typically grow in two directions: outward from the trunk, and downward into the soil. There are three main types of root systems; taproot, lateral root, and heart root. It’s important to know the difference between each and what root system belongs to the trees, in order to determine the best removal method.

Tree root systems

Tap root system

This is the primary root system of a tree. It is a single, large root that grows straight down from the tree trunk. Because they can penetrate deep into the soil, they are often difficult to remove without damaging the tree. A tap root system lives in climates where the soil is deep and loose, such as in forests or prairies. The tap root system is found in trees such as oaks and pines.

Lateral root system 

Lateral roots are smaller than tap roots and they grow horizontally from the tree trunk. They are often found in clusters and don’t tend to have a lot of root mass. The roots are widespread so the tree remains supported despite the lack of mass. Lateral root systems are found in all types of climates, but they thrive in moist environments. Lateral roots are the most common type of root system, and they are found in trees such as maple and birch. 

Heart root system

The heart root system is the rarest root system. It consists of a single, large root that grows straight down from the tree trunk and many smaller roots that grow horizontally from the large root. The stability of this root system comes from the root ball which counteracts the weight of the tree limbs with the resistance of the soil. This type of root system is found in trees such as sycamore and red oak. 

How to remove tree roots

If you are not sure if a tree has a large or small root system, there are a few ways to tell. One is to look at the size of the tree’s trunk. A tree with a small trunk usually has smaller roots than a tree with a large trunk. Another way to tell is by how deep the roots go into the ground. If the roots are close to the surface, they are probably small. But if the roots are deep in the ground, they are probably large. If you are removing tree roots from soil perhaps in your back yard, the process will be easier than removing the roots from an urban area or from underneath a structure. Whichever method you use, it will differ depending on the size of the root and the direction it grows. 

How to remove big roots

The best way to remove big roots is to dig them out. Depending on where the tree is located, you may need to use a shovel. However, the easiest way to dig out big roots, since they grow deep into the soil, is to use an excavator. This will allow you to dig around the roots without damaging the tree. Once the roots are exposed, you can use a chainsaw to cut them out.  If you are removing a big root, you should cut as much of the root as you can. This will make it easier to remove the root from the ground.

How to remove deep tree roots

If the roots are deep in the ground, you will need to dig a trench around the tree. This will expose the roots so you can cut them with a chainsaw. Just like removing big roots, you should cut as much of the root as you can.

How to remove small roots

Small roots can be removed by hand. Dig around the root until it is exposed and then pull it out of the ground. If the root is too big to pull out, you can use a shovel or handsaw to cut it into smaller pieces.

When removing roots, you might need to refer back to which type of root system the tree has. Depending on which way the roots grow, the method of root removal will change. 

  • If you are removing a tap root system, the roots will most likely be large roots and the best way to do it is by using an excavator. This will allow you to dig around the roots without damaging the tree. 
  • If you’re removing a lateral root system, the most effective approach is to do it by hand because the roots are smaller and more shallow from the earth’s surface. Dig around the root until it is exposed and then pull it out of the ground. If the root is too big to pull out, you can use a shovel and saw. Lateral roots are the most common type of root system, so this will be the most common method of removal.
  • If you’re removing a heart root system, an excavator is the easiest way to go about it. You will be able to cut out the roots without harming the tree once the roots are exposed. This root system is very strong, so it might be difficult to remove them without damaging the tree.

How to remove girdling tree roots

Girdling roots are above-ground tree roots that wrap around the tree trunk and constrict its growth. It’s important to remove girdling roots because they can damage a healthy tree from growing. Girdling roots can be easily noticed because they wrap around the tree trunk tightly. They are above-ground roots and will most likely have a different color than the rest of the tree. If you have a tree with girdling roots, the best way to remove them is by cutting them with a saw. Make sure that you cut the roots close to the tree trunk so that they can heal over time.

How to remove a tree root ball

A tree root ball is the mass of roots that are found on trees with the heart root system. The heart root system grows in the ground by sending out lateral roots from the main root. This root ball will help to anchor the tree in the ground and will also collect nutrients and water for the tree causing it to be very dense and heavy. If you need to remove a tree with a root ball, you will need to use a backhoe or an excavator. This is because the root ball can weigh up to several tons and it would most likely be impossible to remove by hand.

Tree Root Removal Without Harming the Tree

Removing tree roots from a living tree should only be done if it is absolutely necessary as it could be harmful to the health of the tree. Here are some examples of when tree roots can become a problem and need to be removed:

  • If the roots are causing cracks in sidewalks or driveways
  • If the roots are growing into sewer lines or underground water pipes
  • If the roots are lifting up asphalt or concrete

If you have a tree with roots that are causing problems, you should first try to remove the problem without harming the tree.

The best way to remove tree roots

How to remove tree roots under sidewalks

Trees near sidewalks can make an urban area look nice. They can add color and life to an otherwise boring area. They can also provide shade, which can be very helpful in the summertime heat. However, over time the tree roots grow in size. As the tree grows, the roots will lift the sidewalk pavers or crack the cement of the sidewalk. 

There are ways to prevent this from occurring such as choosing a tree that is small in size so the roots will not grow to damage the sidewalk. You can also build structures such as ramps to raise the sidewalk for the roots to grow underneath, or root barriers to displace the roots once they grow larger in size. 

However, if the tree is already matured and is causing damage to the sidewalk the best way to remove roots without damaging the tree is to cut them out. You can start by removing the concert sidewalk or pavers then use a shovel to dig around the roots. Be sure not to damage the tree while you are cutting out the roots. After the roots have been removed, fill in the hole with dirt then lay new concrete or pavers.

How to remove tree roots from plumbing pipes. 

Tree roots can get stuck in plumbing pipes, sewer lines, and drains. This can cause a lot of problems because the roots can clog the pipes and prevent water from passing through. The best way to remove tree roots from plumbing is by using root treatment. This is a chemical that will dissolve the roots and allow the water to flow through the pipes again. You can also use a plumber’s snake to remove the roots from the pipes. This is a tool that is inserted into the pipe and will spin around, cutting through the roots. 

If you have roots growing in your plumbing or sewer lines, or drains, speak with a tree removal expert to assess which removal method would work best for you without damaging the plumbing system.  

Remove tree roots under foundation

Tree roots can get grow under the foundation of a home if they are not properly taken care of. This can cause a lot of damage to the home because the roots can crack the foundation and cause it to collapse. 

Having roots damage the foundation of your home is not common and can be easily prevented. The best way to prevent a tree from growing roots under your foundation is to install root barriers. They will deflect the roots from growing under the foundation and causing damage.  Give the tree room to grow by planting it at least 10 feet away from the house. This may require the planting of a replacement tree after a tree that’s too close to the foundation is removed. 

If you already have tree roots growing under your foundation, you might be able to remove them by digging around the foundation and cutting the roots. You can then cover the roots with a root barrier to prevent them from growing back. 

Ways to remove tree roots

Remove tree roots on your own by hand

Small roots, typically no wider than your thumb, can be removed by hand. Use a trowel or spade to dig around the root until it is exposed. Cut through the root with a sharp knife or pruning shears, then lift the root out of the ground to remove it.

You can also dig out the tree roots using a shovel if they are not as close to the surface of the soil. From there you can use a handsaw to cut away the roots. 

Treat the Roots With Chemicals

Treating roots with chemicals will dissolve the roots and clear them from the area. When treating roots with chemicals the treatment should only be applied to the roots and should not come into contact with the tree itself, as this could damage the tree.  

Root treatments are typically used for small areas where the tree roots are causing problems, such as to kill tree roots that are growing in plumbing pipes or roots growing in a garden or flower bed. 

The most common chemical used to treat tree roots is glyphosate. Glyphosate is a herbicide that will kill the roots and prevent them from regrowing. Glyphosate is available in many different products, such as Roundup, RootX, or Rodeo.

Using Stump Grinder to Remove Tree Roots

A stump grinder is a tree root removal machine used to remove tree stumps and the roots left behind from a tree that’s been cut down. A stump grinder is a large excavator that has a rotating disc to grind the stump into small pieces. Once the stump is ground down, the excavator will dig out the roots and remove them. 

A stump grinder is not meant for living trees. It is meant for removing dense roots after a tree has been removed and you are left with a large stump with deep roots. 

Can I remove my neighbor’s tree roots?

Unfortunately, there are times when a tree is located on one property but the roots spill over into the soil of a neighbouring property causing damage to structures built on the neighbour’s side. 

If the tree roots are growing on your property, you have the right to remove them. If the roots are growing on your neighbor’s property, you will need to get their permission before removing them. 

Tree root removal cost 

The average cost of tree root removal can vary depending on the size of the tree and the difficulty of the removal. The best way to get an estimate is to contact a local tree removal company.

Removing tree roots can be a difficult task, depending on the size of the tree and the location of the roots. If tree roots are causing damage to your property talk to an expert about root removal or tree removal today!

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