Roots often get wrongly blamed for property damage and the immediate reaction is to remove the tree. In addition to harming the ecosystem, removing a tree is costly. Instead of reaching for a chainsaw, here are some ways that roots can be managed:
- Pruning. If there are specific areas where roots should not go, like under a patio, we can proactively prune roots.
- Root Barriers. These plates can be installed at the edge of a sidewalk or driveway and will block roots from growing in a particular direction.
- Flexible surfaces. Consider raised walkways or pouring an ADA-compliant rubber overlay for sidewalks and playgrounds.
- Root bridges. These are tunnels where roots can grow, allowing them to pass underneath various hardscapes without damaging those features.
- And let’s not forget one last option: Do nothing. At times there may be city or HOA requirements to address root issues. We should also consider the needs of our elders, pregnant women, folks who rely on wheelchairs, and so forth. But if these are not a concern, consider just leaving things as-is. Most old neighborhoods with large trees have this issue throughout their communities. It may be frustrating, but these neighborhoods are still wonderful places to live.
If you’d like to learn more about managing sidewalks specifically, the City of Seattle has a “Trees and Sidewalks Operations Plan” that offers a variety of solutions (jump to page 29). This manual outlines the benefits and drawbacks of materials like pavers, asphalt, and pervious concrete. It also addresses management techniques like root barriers, trenches, and bridging.
By implementing these alternative strategies and becoming more knowledgeable about the behavior of roots, we can work with trees without resorting to unnecessary removal. But you shouldn’t wait until a tree is fully grown to utilize these techniques. Planning ahead when you plant a tree will save time, and money and will allow your tree to grow healthy and strong.