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Problem Tree Roots: Removing and Controlling

Tree roots rarely rate a mention in gardens until they begin to intrude into areas that they shouldn’t. Places like your sewer pipes, under neighbouring fences and lifting pathways is when they become nuisances.

While you may have enjoyed the tree for aeons, or inherited it when you bought the property, suddenly it becomes a problem when they expose their roots or begin rising to the surface.


How to Avoid Tree Root Intrusion

How to Remove Tree Roots

The best defence is always preparation. Selecting trees that have a history of shallow or exposed roots is fine provided you know where they can go in the garden without disturbing infastructure. Keeping them away from fences, walls, paths, septic tanks and sewer pipes is all common sense but easy to miss in the excitement of planting a new tree.

Once the problem of exposed tree roots has surfaced (pun intentional!) it can be just a matter of trimming some of them in order to keep the issue under control. If ignored the problems may become exacerbated and in some situations begin to cost you enormously.

How to Remove Tree Roots

The best way to stop intruding tree roots is to stop them in their tracks as soon as you notice their growth path. Then it’s a simple matter of cutting them back so that won’t continue the track they’re currently heading.

Obviously, cutting tree roots back to the trunk is going to prove problematic, especially if you plan removing one side completely. Tree roots are the anchor for the tree’s trunk so removing any of them is a balancing act – literally – and can be fraught with peril should you make the wrong move.

First, start by digging a trench 1ft in (provided it’s a large tree) from the tree’s drip-line (where the leaves end). This should uncover any serious threats and at this point it is safe enough to trim the tree’s roots without harming the tree itself. 

If the roots are lifting paths and fences, dig half a metre back from the path or fence, expose the root and cut it there.

Cutting is easily done if you dig below the root exposing it all the way around and the use a recipricating saw or pruning saw to cut the root

Tree roots in pipes

Install Barriers to Impinge Tree Root Growth

While the trench is still open it may help to install some barrier that will impinge on the tree root’s further growth. You may even want to consider realigning any pipes that the roots are headed for or paths that might be in its future trajectory.

Removing tree roots is not a solve-all solution. Trees have a habit of growing, as do their roots, and over time the tree will continue its growing journey even where it was cut back. Therefore, cutting its roots will be an exercise that’s required every few years or so just to keep them under control.

Whatever you do, never cut tree roots back to the trunk. This will make it completely unstable and susceptible to disease, or death and could result in it toppling over and doing even more damage. If the only way to fix the problem is to cut the roots that close to the trunk then it might be time to call in the professionals to remove it altogether.

Last Updated on October 30, 2023

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