Tree Care Guide: Root Problems

Posted on: 3 August 2022

Good tree care begins below the soil. The roots are both the support system for the entire tree as well as the means for taking in moisture and soil nutrients. When the roots are in trouble, the health of the entire tree is at risk.


Improper care is a common cause of root damage. Overwatering, particularly in compacted soil, can cause roots to drown and die. In severe cases, fungal or bacterial diseases may further damage waterlogged roots, and tree death can occur in severe cases.

Damage to the roots is the other most likely cause of problems. Animals that burrow and chew on roots or scratch at the base of trees can cause root damage. Mechanical damage from working near the tree can also destroy roots. For example, trenching for a sprinkler system can cut through surface roots, or mowing over raised roots can lead to major damage.


Small amounts of root damage are normal and won't usually compromise the health of the tree. It's only when extensive damage occurs, or damage to larger roots, that problems surface. One of the first symptoms of damage is crown dieback, which is when leaves begin to yellow and die from the tips backward. Eventually, whole sections of the crown may wither and die.

Overall growth will slow as the roots decline. You may notice fungal growth in the form of mushrooms sprouting from the trunk or from the soil above the roots. If there are raised roots, you may even see the damage on their surface in the form of sap-leaking wounds. 


Your tree service specialist can determine the best way to treat root damage. Treatment depends on the cause and on the extent of the damage. When damage is minor, little may be necessary other than mulching over the roots to shelter them from damage and providing some fertilizer to encourage new root growth.

In more severe cases, it may be necessary to trim back the crown of the tree to a size that the remaining roots can continue to support. The tree may need to be staked to keep it steady as new roots grow in, as well. Your service specialist may also recommend a process called radial trenching, which opens up the soil around the roots so that there is more access to the nutrients and moisture that fuel new growth.

Contact a residential tree care service if you suspect problems with the roots.