Is it safe to cut some of the roots off a tree?

movinginva(Zone 7)March 24, 2012

Hello all, This is my first time posting in this area of the forums.

I have a mature oak tree at the front of the house, and I am digging down about 5 inches to install a brick patio. In order to do this, I will have to cut some of the tree's roots. I will be cutting no more than about a quarter of the roots. How much will this affect the tree? By cutting the roots, am I asking for trouble?


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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

It will not help the tree, but the only thing you can do is pick when you do the cutting.

Are the trees still dormant where you are or does it have leaves?

When are ya planning on doing the work?

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 8:46PM
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movinginva(Zone 7)

I was planning on doing the work this and next weekend. We had a very mild winter and the trees are now out of dormancy.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 9:00PM
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How close will the patio be to the base of the tree trunk?

How broad will the patio be? (I'm trying to get a feel for how much root area will be destroyed).


    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 9:13PM
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movinginva(Zone 7)

The edge of the patio will be about seven feet from the tree and the patio will be 18 feet wide.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 9:24PM
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famartin(z5 NE NV)

Define "safe". Cutting roots is always "asking for trouble", its just a matter of whether you're doing it in a little mouse peep or a big lion roar ;)

Can you not put in a wood patio, elevated above the ground, which would not bother the trees at all?

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 9:44PM
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Be mindful it's not just the roots in the 5" depth you'll kill. The brick patio will shut off a large area from access to air, & thus drop oxygen levels in the soil. So roots deeper than 5" will be killed, too.

It's similar to the issue that comes when people want to add soil to raise the level of their yard, or build a berm around a mature tree's trunk to make a flower bed. It can smother the covered roots.

I read somewhere on this forum, I think, someone indicated mature trees are less forgiving of root bed damage than growing juveniles.

Also be mindful the consequences of root damage can take years to play out. Like when construction equipment has been driven over rooted ground, compressing the soil & crushing roots.


    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 10:12PM
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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

I don't disagree that some damage will be done to the tree's roots, but if the patio is to be anything less than a thick poured concrete slab and the tree is more than a young sapling, I'd say the roots will likely do far more damage to the patio than vice versa.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 5:38AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i dont think you can do it.. w/o harming the tree.. basically removing all of its root in the top 5 inches of soil.. that close to the trunk ...

how about you go up 5 inches ... and retain the patio ... still not a perfect solution as far as the tree is concerned ... but better than undermining a huge plant ... which is presumably right next to the house ...

what if its a negative.. where will that tree fall???? and in what decade thereafter ...

i presume the deed is done ...


ps: and i am not really worried about any root smaller than one inch or so .. i am pondering the monster roots.. the main support system upon which the tree relies for stability .. which odds are.. will be right in the middle of the patio area .. i wouldnt go cutting a lot of those ...

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 9:12AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

This sure worries me! Large trees are 'held up' by their shallow network of fine roots, usually located within the top 12 inches of soil. As a matter of fact, the majority of the root system of a mature oak consists of that shallow mat of roots. They are what supports the tree physically as well as physiologically.

Damaging 25% of these fine roots could cause lots of problems. Can we see pictures?

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 11:39AM
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movinginva(Zone 7)

Here is a pic of the area where the trees will go. The patio will sit against the house, and end where the mailbox sits now. and go to the edge of the small window left of the bay window. I am not sure that it will be a full 25% of the roots, probably a bit less.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 4:58PM
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Well, my neighbor did it to a tree of mine and now it's slowly dying.If you want a dead tree eventually I guess you can do it.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 9:45PM
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Moving, "from the picture", it looks doable. That is, from that perspective, and given that I might not be seeing it correctly, it seems there's enough room. All in all, you're farther away from the tree than your original text made me imagine.


    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 9:53PM
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