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Tree rootfoundation problem
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<Mike Priem>
posted
Hello,

I am looking for some advice on a root problem I have.

I recently bought a home in Milwaukee, WI and there is Suger Maple planted in the back yard. I am estimating that the tree is approx. 20 years old, based on the age of the home and the size of the tree. The base of the trunk is about 24 inches in diameter. The tree is about 40' tall.

My problem is that the tree was planted about 20' from the home, dead centered on the Southern side of the house, and there are several exposed roots. Of the 6 exposed roots, one bothers me in that it is the largest and is growing directly towards the house. It's diameter is about 6-8" along the exposed portion. It goes beneath ground mabey 4' from the foundation.

Do you think that this could cause potential problems with my foundation of my house (which has a basement), if the root were to grow all the way to it? Or would it likely bend downwards when it hits the foundation?

Could/should the root be removed without causing harm to the tree itself?

The tree is quite grande, and one of my favorite features of my yard. I would hate to lose it. Thanks in advance!
 
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<Bob Wulkowicz>
posted
Reply to post by Mike Priem, on August 23, 2001 at 12:20:49:



You can find some of my opinions about the threat of tree roots here at: http://www.tree-tech.com/board/?topic=topic6&msg=403 and at http://www.tree-tech.com/board/?topic=topic6&msg=393 .

I say opinions as a courtesy to other people's opinions, and I wish they would spend a bit of time thinking about them before parroting the latest urban myths. You are correct in being concerned, given the volume and apparent reasonable "science" that travels along with the myths, but the threats are exaggerated to the point of absurdity in most all the cases.

If we could remove all the soil around the 6-8" diameter root you are worried about. we would see it as a major collector of smaller roots. The surface root is the size it is because of the success of its daughter roots that stem from it and in turn branch out into even smaller root divisions. The critical working parts of this subsystem are the tiny root hairs that pick up water and minerals, and have a short life span.

These are tiny, do not crack or crush concrete or foundations, and do not have the ability to create the pressures needed for such destruction. When an adventurous root tip is out exploring and meets something resistible, it stops and a lateral root blossoms to take the search in a new direction. When the roots meet your wall, they don't break it up they divert around it as best they can.

Implied in the existence of surface roots is a soil that is not hospitable; the roots would prefer to be further underground for a lot of reasons. If they could have been lower, they would have been---it's the tree's judgment that they stayed high where you find them. The soils immediately around the house were displaced and mixed for the pouring of the foundation, and so roots may be lower there if they found the soil more tolerable, but roots really don't dive except to get somewhere else. There's little down there for them.

Gas exchange is difficult; taking in oxygen and giving up carbon dioxide is essential for the roots to stay alive--they breathe like any other part of the tree. And just because it's lower doesn't mean there's water and minerals available, the many independent contributors to the organic world don't like it down there either. The roots themselves don't constitute any real physical threat to our manmade structures--we over designed foundations and footings for other reasons, and roots ain't in that league.

As to roots pulling out water and causing the ground to shrink, you first need a rather specific shrinkable clay to be present in the areas where shrinking has a structural consequence. Interestingly, it's also a clay roots don't like very much. In the UK where they're really gone overboard on this delusion, they've had a 20 year reduction in rain--a 20 year protracted drought--and most everything is shrinking that will shrink whether on not it has trees. There, it's big business with insurance companies paying out significant pounds for pre-emptive felling of trees as if they were the single cause of problems. Off with their heads, says the Red Queen. Lewis Caroll would have loved it...

It's extremely unlikely you will have a problem, and if you think you do, increase the watering in that area, watering for the house and the tree in that sense. That's the more direct and sensible fix.

If you want to cut off the root, no one will stop you, but the tree will be injured and decay will travel back to the trunk of the tree. I've seen that many times where roots are cut for curb replacement. In Chicago, I wrote about an avenue filled with 80 year old Silver Maples being damaged by sidewalk and curb work. No one cared, business as usual, and 8 to 10 years later, I photographed substantial decay on the side of the curb cuts and we lost a few dozen majestic trees.

I compliment you on your timely concerns and on asking the questions. Since Nature has decided to condemn us as a destructive species to the crock pot cooking of global warming, the best friend you'll have soon is that sugar maple with its dense shade. Keep your trees watered and healthy; we're all of us in for a lot of trouble.


Bob Wulkowicz
 
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<Kathy>
posted
Reply to post by Bob Wulkowicz, on August 23, 2001 at 12:20:49:

I HAVE THE SAME PROBLEM. MY TREE IS IN FRONT OF MY HOUSE. IT IS ABOUT FIVE FOOT FROM MY HOUSE AND IT IS ABOUT FOUR YEARS OLD. IT STANDS ABOUT FORTY FOOT. I WAS TOLD IT IS A DUTCH ELM. I LOVE IT BECAUSE IT IS THE ONLY THING I SEE OUT MY WINDOW AND THERE A LOT OF LITTLE BIRDS THAT WE FEED IN IT. PLUS I RAISED IT SINCE IT WAS VERY LITTLE. TO ME IT IS A LIVING THING AND I DON'T WAN'T TO KILL IT. IT HAS LIFTED THE CEMENT BLOCKS OF MY PAVEMENT ABOUT EIGHT INCHES AND I AM AFRAID IT WILL LOOSEN THE BRICKS IN THE FRONT OF MY HOUSE. I KNOW YOU RECIEVE A LOT OF THESE LETTERS, BUT PLEASE HELP ME I REALLY WANT TO SAVE HER I DONT WANT TO TAKE HER DOWN.
THANKS
KATHY
 
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