Tree Roots

When winter rolls around and all the leaves have fallen, we are left with bare trees during the dormant season. Trees go through a lot of changes above ground, but have you ever wondered about what is going on below ground? Roots are an important but often forgotten part of a trees’ anatomy. In this month’s blog, we will talk about roots’ purposes, structure, and the obstacles roots face in our landscapes.

Here are a few of the main functions of roots and their role in a tree’s survival:

Anchorage: Healthy roots allow a tree to stand upright. A tree’s roots grow more horizontally than downward in the ground, allowing a tree to grow vertically above ground in a stable manner. Rotting or underdeveloped roots can cause a tree to topple over due to the lack of stability.

Absorption: Roots absorb water and minerals found in the soil and are brought up by xylem tissues within the tree. The water and minerals are brought up and used throughout the entire tree and exits as vapor through the leaves.

Storage: Roots are storage organs for the trees which hold water and carbohydrates to use during dry or dormant seasons.

Types of Roots

There are a many different types of roots underneath trees. Taproots are roots that grow straight down into the ground. Certain species grow a tap root, such as Oaks, Hickories, Walnuts, and conifers. The ability to grow a taproot is dependent on the condition of the soil, so they are much less common in our landscapes due to our compacted soil.

Lateral roots are large, woody roots that are much like underground branches that spread horizontally. These roots aid in the anchorage and stability of trees.

Small absorbing roots make up most of the root system in trees. These small roots are covered in fine root hairs, also called fibrous roots. These roots easily soak up water and a healthy root system is covered in these fibrous roots.

Obstacles Roots Face in our Landscapes

Proper planting is critical to a tree’s health and survival. If a tree is planted too deeply or incorrectly, girdling roots can occur that can wrap around a tree and essentially suffocate it, cutting off necessary resources.

Soil compaction is a common occurrence in our landscapes due to construction, foot traffic, and vehicles. Compaction reduces air space and water flow in the soil surrounding the roots which can cause slowed growth. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if continuous flooding occurs, roots can suffocate and begin to rot beginning a spiral of decline and an opportunity for the tree to topple over without the anchorage it needs.

Because roots grow 2 to 3 times past the dripline of the tree canopy, space to grow is a necessity. Roots and trees are generally very resilient and will find a way to grow, which can cause damage to nearby structures and underground obstacles. The most important thing you can do for your tree and its root system is too follow the rule of “right tree, right place.” Selecting the right tree for the space you have can avoid many future problems.

Give your arborist a call today to evaluate the health of your trees or determine which tree would be the right one for your landscape.