Because they spend their lives covered in dirt, roots rarely receive the attention they deserve. This is unfortunate, as roots provide a number of key biological and structural functions for the trees they support.
Given their importance, it shouldn’t be surprising that many trees go into decline or die outright after their root systems suffer from some type of damage or contract a disease. Accordingly, you’ll want to do everything you can to help support proper soil conditions and protect your tree’s roots.
To fully appreciate the importance of tree roots, you must understand some of the services they provide.
- Roots absorb moisture from the ground. Once inside the roots, the water is drawn up the tree and delivered to the various living tissues. Water plays a number of roles in tree biology, including helping the tree cool itself and supplying some of the raw ingredients necessary for photosynthesis.
- Tree roots can serve as storage sites for starches and water. This typically occurs in the large roots near the base of the tree, where they can be rapidly mobilized and sent upward if necessary.
- Roots absorb some of the important minerals trees need. They do so during the process of absorbing moisture – in addition to the water they suck up, they collect any minerals dissolved in it.
- Roots anchor the tree to the ground and keep it upright. Interestingly, most people have a slightly mistaken perception of a tree’s root system: Rather than looking like a mirror-image of the canopy, root systems are usually wide and relatively shallow. This means that trees don’t pull “up” on their roots as much as they pull too the opposite side. Because tree roots are more-or-less circular, the trees pull more-or-less equally in all directions.
Tree roots occasionally perform other services, such as producing new shoots from the ground (vegetative reproduction), but this is not terribly important for the purposes of this discussion.
Protecting and Supporting Your Tree’s Roots
For the most part, supporting your tree’s root system requires that you just protect them from harm. Trees have been growing for much longer than we’ve been here, and they know what they’re doing. We just need to make sure we don’t get in their way.
Shielding the Structural Root Zones
Simply put, some roots are more important than others. Trees are often able to survive some damage to their root system, but it is important to prevent damage to the most important part: The appropriately named Structural root zone.
The critical root zone is basically an imaginary circle that contains the bulk of the most crucial roots. You can determine the critical root zone for any tree pretty simply. Just measure the diameter of the tree about 1.5 meters above the ground. For every 10 centimeters of tree diameter, the critical root zone extends 1.2 meters further from the trunk. For example, a tree with a 50-centimeter trunk has a structural root zone that extends for 60 meters in all directions.
It’s always a good idea to identify the critical root zone for any tree on your property, and do your best to protect this area from compaction, invasive plants and toxic substances.
More information about structural root zones can be downloaded here.
The Protective Power of Mulch
Mulch is one of the simplest and most effective support tools in the tree-lover’s arsenal, and it is a great way to protect your tree’s critical root zone. Mulch helps to moderate the temperature of the soil, prevent compaction, suppress weed growth and produce nutritious organic material that will slowly filter down to the soil.
Usually a 5- to 10-centimeter layer of mulch is appropriate. Don’t pack it down and be sure that you leave a small “donut hole” around the tree. Piling the mulch up around the trunk traps moisture and encourages the proliferation of fungi and bacteria. We recycle cut down trees and provide mulch in by the tailor load throughout Melbourne. If your interested, you can learn more about our mulch services.
Proper Watering Practices
Even drought-tolerant trees often benefit from regular irrigation. But you have to water the tree correctly, or you may actually make trees more susceptible to failure.
Many people provide their trees with a little bit of water on a frequent basis. They’ll go turn the hose on full blast and point it at the bottom of the tree’s trunk for 10 minutes before moving on to another one. This encourages the development of shallow root systems, and it can produce a lot of runoff water in the process.
Instead, you want to water your mature trees infrequently (perhaps 2 or 3 times per month), but when you do so, you want to saturate the soil down to depths of at least 200 centimeters and preferably twice that deep. Do so with the hose turned on no more than half way, and let the water soak in over the course of several hours. Just be sure to monitor the situation before leaving it unattended and check up on it frequently.
If you are concerned that one of your trees is suffering from poor root health, contact your friends at Trav’s Tree Service. One of our professional arborists will inspect the tree and its roots, and provide a game plan for restoring their health, if need be.
We do offer a number of services that can help restore root health, but it is important to act quickly and give your tree the best chance of survival. Don’t wait – call today!