Root damage to a tree may not cause visible symptoms of stress for 5 to 10 years. Up until then a tree will live off its stored reserves, but when drought or hot, dry weather hits, it could rapidly kill the tree. A tree's most active roots are in the top 3 feet of the soil, with the majority living in the top 12 inches where there is more oxygen. Reduce the tree's stress by providing it with plenty of food and water in its damaged state.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
Things you need
- Organic mulch
- Fertilizer (5-10-5)
Provide plenty of organic mulch to help the tree conserve water and aerate the soil. Trees damaged during construction, for example, suffer from an impaired water and nutrient supply system. According to arborist Chuck Lippi, mulch is the least expensive and most useful treatment for tree roots. Apply a layer of organic mulch 2 to 4 inches deep. A tree's root system extends well beyond its drip line, so apply mulch as far out from the trunk as the tree is tall, leaving an area 6 inches from the trunk free of mulch. Replenish as needed.
Thin the tree's branches to reduce water needs and consumption.
Remove any suckers and monitor closely for insect infestations and disease while the tree is healing.
Apply fertilizer. North Carolina State University recommends fertilizer application to trees suffering from root damage. Distribute a 5-10-5 fertilizer at a rate of 2 lb. per inch of trunk diameter at its thickest point (usually 3 feet off the ground). Scatter the fertilizer over the feeder roots. This band of roots is located about 2 feet out from the trunk and extends several feet beyond the ends of the branches. Apply water liberally to help the fertilizer sink into the ground.
Make sure the root flare is exposed. This is a problem especially in urban areas, where trees and their roots often don't have the space they need to thrive. The root flare is the wide area at the base of the trunk. A covered root flare leaves the tree susceptible to disease and decay. Remove fill soil and raised planting beds around trees to expose the root flare and maintain a clear zone around the trunk. Healthy trees will have obviously exposed root flares.
Tips and warnings
- Warning: Avoid adding additional nitrogen to the soil, as this will encourage new foliage growth, which a tree with damaged roots cannot sustain.
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