Root Barriers for Trees

Written by piper li
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Root Barriers for Trees
Root barriers help limit and redirect the growth of tree roots. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Trees play an important role in the landscape. These giants of the plant kingdom provide shade and wind protection, as well as balance the yard and enhance the appearance of the landscape. Unfortunately, tree roots can cause damage to nearby sidewalks and structures. Root barriers help redirect the roots and minimise the risk of cracked foundations and heaving sidewalks.

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There are two basic reasons for installing root barriers near trees. One reason is to keep the deeper roots from puncturing underground structures, such as retaining walls, plumbing pipes and basement foundations. The other reason is to keep the surface roots from rising above the soil. Emerging surface roots are the most common cause of sidewalk buckling. Exposed roots are also prone to damage from lawnmowers, normal traffic and sunscald. Keeping the roots below the surface will help protect the health of the tree.

Types of Barriers

Sturdy, rigid barriers that extend vertically below the surface of the soil provide a girdle that limits the outward growth of the expanding roots and causes them to grow downward and go deeper. The most common materials for these root barriers include metal, galvanised screen, fibreglass panels and sturdy plastic. Surface barriers go between the surface of the surrounding soil and a mulch covering, such as rock or wood chips. Materials for surface barriers include nylon fabric, rock impregnated tarpaper, permeable woven fabric sheets and plastic sheeting.

Alternative Controls

Traps and deflectors are other methods for controlling root growth. Traps contain holes that direct the emerging roots in specific directions, allowing them to grow at their preferred level while protecting nearby structures. Deflectors are similar to barriers, but like traps, they control the direction of root growth by blocking off specific areas. Inhibitors are fabric barriers that contain herbicides. These fabrics slowly release the herbicides into the adjacent soil, minimising the growth of roots in the area.


The best time to install a tree root barrier is at the time of planting. Small circular barriers can limit the growth of the tree, while barriers placed too deep can lead to roots that push upward instead of downward. Solid surface barriers can deflect water and lead to tree dehydration. Surface barriers may gradually break down in the soil and lose their effectiveness. Carefully adhering to the product's instructions will ensure the correct placement and offer the best possible results.

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