Roots conflicting with infrastructure around the home is a common concern; from driveways, patios and pathways to foundations, septic tanks and underground pipes.
A tree in the wild sends its roots far out to seek adequate space for anchorage, nutrition, water and air to supply itself. In the urban and suburban landscape, there aren’t as many welcome places for roots to grow. A prime example of this is on city streets where the soil underneath is very compacted and space is too limited for tree roots to go anywhere, so they push up the sidewalk. Roots will always seek out the easiest source of air, space and water, whether that is through a crack in a pipe, a home foundation or at the surface through the pavement.
So, what can be done short of complete tree removal?
First of all, we want to be certain that there is an actual root issue before condemning the tree. That can be done by air or manual excavation or by going high tech with ground penetrating radar. Also, have any of your infrastructure elements looked at by the appropriate hardscaping/construction inspectors for suspected flaws and root invasion. If roots are indeed found to be invading, here are some management options for consideration:
Tree friendly solutions can be worked out if you plan far enough ahead and if not, creative solutions can be implemented depending on each situation, your budget and dedication to the landscape.
All trees clean and filter the air, provide shade and cooling, buffer noise and wind, add to neighborhood character and beauty, and provide homes and hiding for suburban wildlife that would otherwise be displaced or non-existent. Big trees with their much larger biomass can produce substantially more of these benefits than smaller trees.
Unfortunately the very thing that makes them great also makes us afraid; their size. Living under a great big tree brings many concerns for safety and property damage. Before calling for a removal or aggressive pruning such as topping, tree preservation should be considered. Some people think that topping a tree manages its size, but topping a tree causes decay and rot over the long term and the tree will resprout many fast growing suckers that will have to be continually recut, thinned or restored. For more info, see Why Topping Hurts Trees. Trees that are too big for your comfort level can be correctly reduced in size by making selective cuts but, similar to topping, it is costly and labor intensive to manage trees to be smaller than they are supposed to be. The best approach is to cultivate a strong and healthy tree that you can trust with the help from a certified arborist. If you just can’t accept the risk that comes with living under or near big trees, removal is your only option. Risk is greatly subjective, but an arborist can assess what risk level you are living with through a hazard assessment and can develop a maintenance plan for your tree(s).