For all the beauty a well-pruned tree can add to a landscape, this effect is only possible because of what is going on underground. This is because a tree is only as healthy as its root system. Because roots work to provide the nutrients a tree needs to be healthy, their care is critical. It is important to understand the physiology of roots to fully appreciate the scope of their importance and determine how best to care for them.

It is often erroneously thought that roots grow to considerable depths below ground. However, this is inaccurate. The fact of the matter is that roots typically grown only within two feet below the ground’s surface. This area is responsible for securing the tree in place. Consequently, this is also the section of ground from which the roots are able to extract water and nutrients. Upon the specific arms of each root grow smaller roots, called feeder roots. Essentially, it is the feeder roots that are responsible for the absorption of the tree’s sustenance and, therefore, its overall vitality.

As far as location, it is imperative to understand that roots extend well beyond the circumference of the canopy by up to sixty feet. Why is this important? Not knowing the extent to which roots may grow can lead to unintentional damage. For instance, breaking ground for a garden or building project can disturb the roots of a nearby tree for which one might have been unaware extended to the site.

Alternatively, unknowingly planting a garden or other trees near the roots of a proximal tree can eventually lead to competition between the plants for the water, nutrients, and oxygen necessary for survival. In such a case, the youngest of the plants generally pay the higher price; however, all plants competing for these things ultimately suffer setbacks, no matter how nominal they may seem.

Other circumstances to consider that may negatively impact tree roots and the overall vitality of a tree include soil compaction and the opposing extremes of underwatering and overwatering.

Soil compaction often results from heavy foot traffic, whether from humans or wildlife, the use of heavy machinery on the area, extraneous weight on the soil, as from dirt or sand piles on construction sites or areas of mulch around landscaping trees, pavement, such as sidewalks or parking lots, and hefty, fallen limbs that remain in place for a prolonged period of time. Contact an Austin tree trimming professional to assist with limbs, minimizing the risk of those that may fall and change the makeup of the soil below. These are all examples of scenarios that cause soil to become compacted, thereby restricting the levels of water, minerals, and oxygen a tree needs to survive.

Of course, underwatering is detrimental for obvious reasons. As water is necessary for the tree to survive, insufficient amounts of it restrict growth and may ultimately lead to its demise. Overwatering, on the other hand, may be equally as detrimental, but generally because it deprives the tree of oxygen.

It is also important to note that just because roots lie underground does not mean that they cannot be the cause of a tree’s demise. There are diseases that are specific to a tree’s roots which may kill the tree if left untreated or, in some cases, if merely contracted. In Austin, Texas, oak wilt is one such disease. It can easily be transmitted through the intertwined roots of diseased and healthy trees. An Austin tree care service can address any questions regarding how roots are affected by oak wilt.

About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree service in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and oak wilt treatment. For more information on Austin tree service, please visit

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