What are the roots of a tree really for?

You know all trees have roots, but have you ever wondered what they’re really for? Tree roots serve many purposes. They anchor the tree to the soil, making sure it stays straight and stable. The roots absorb water from the soil and take nutrients and chemicals out of the soil to produce what they need for the tree’s growth, development and repair.

Where do the roots occur?

Eighty percent of all roots occur in the top 12-36 inches of the soil. In sandy, well-drained soils, some trees like oaks and pines can develop deeper roots, directly beneath the tree trunk. These are known as taproots but are actually deeper roots to help anchor the tree. Most trees never develop taproots, especially when water is close to the surface or when the soil is compacted.

If there’s damage to the roots of a tree on one side, it may cause branch die back on that side or at random places throughout the crown. Therefore, damage to the roots of a tree harms the branches of a tree. In some tree species, roots on one side of the tree supply the same side of the crown with water and nutrients absorbed through the roots. If these roots are injured, the branches on that side will drop leaves. In other tree species, damage on one side of the roots can cause branch death anywhere on the tree.

Why can pruning be harmful to a new tree’s growth?

Pruning branches on trees that have not yet been planted will not help a tree grow better or establish a balance between the roots and the canopy. When trees are dug up from the nursery to be transplanted, many of the tree’s roots remain in the soil. A newly planted tree needs all the leaves it has to help support the growth or new roots. Pruning trees before planting removes the food producing area of the tree (the leaves). This hurts the tree’s ability to become established and create roots.

Why are symptoms of drought and over-watering the same?

Tree roots need moisture, air and a favorable temperature to function and grow. They need to be deep enough to avoid sunlight and stay moist. They should be shallow enough to absorb adequate oxygen. When a tree is over-watered, the roots don’t receive enough oxygen to function. As a result, tree leaves wilt, die and fall off. During a drought, trees don’t receive enough water to function properly. The same result happens. Tree leaves wilt, die and fall off. It’s best to slowly and deeply apply five to eight gallons of water to newly planted and young trees once a week during dry, hot periods.

Still have questions about tree roots? We’re happy to answer them. Please call Austin Tree Service at 512-341-8888. We’re always happy to help.