How Do You Grow A Healthy Root System?

A Healthy Environment for Healthy Roots

A healthy environment is a crucial part of a healthy root system. In many areas proper soil, an appropriate amount of water, and oxygen are all a tree needs to thrive. However, in some circumstances and urban environments tree roots can struggle due to their surrounding environment. Understanding what makes a healthy root system and how to foster one can make a dramatic difference in the overall wellness of the trees on your property.

How Roots Grow in Soil

The root growth pattern of trees is largely misunderstood as generally people think the root structure is similar to what they see above ground in the trunk and branches. Professional arborists and tree growers understand that when you plant a tree in a yard or garden area the roots will grow in phases, first horizontally, and then vertically. These vertical roots don’t mimic the pattern of the branches of the tree but overall grow parallel with the soil surface. Larger plants require a widespread root pattern that is able to regularly soak up fresh water and maintain access to oxygen. Plants with this root system tend to grow more easily in soil near the surface that isn’t compacted or full of dense substances like clay. With misinformation about roots being commonplace it is understandable that many people may not know that their regular gardening practices could be making it more difficult for each plant to grow healthy roots.

Avoiding Soil Mistakes

Knowing that roots grow near the soil there are a few things you can do to assist your plants and trees in getting the nutrients and water they need to survive. Obviously your trees and plants need healthy soil, a proper amount of water, light, and oxygen to grow healthy roots. Avoid unnecessary digging into the soil under the dripline of a tree to avoid causing root damage which can stunt plant growth. While many plants are resilient and can grow new roots, cutting a root can temporarily reduce the water and nutrients a plant can obtain and cause unnecessary stress to the plant. While not necessarily detrimental to a growing tree, compacted soil near the base of a tree can make growing difficult for plants, especially near the base of the trunk. To provide proper drainage at the base of a tree use an organic material like mulch that will promote root growth and overall tree health by providing oxygen and water.

Trees Sharing Roots and Disease

A healthy environment is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy and strong root system. When two trees grow near each other they often share soil, water, and nutrients, but beyond this they can actually share roots. Two roots can graft together if the trees are both one species and they become connected. While under healthy conditions this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, under some circumstances this can hurt both plants and impact previously healthy roots. In cases where a fungi attacks the roots, the plant may halt supplying the leaves with water and nutrients, and this vascular disease can impact the roots of both trees. Caring for the health of a single tree can have an impact on other trees in the immediate area and help them to grow stronger and healthier together.

Types of Root Disease

There are several common fungi that attack roots and cause healthy roots to decay and ultimately damage the plant by inhibiting the passage of nutrients and water from the soil; some fungi will kill smaller feeder roots entirely. Trees can suffer from mineral deficiency and with some species vascular wilt diseases can occur which causes the tree to stop allowing water to pass through from the soil to the leaves. Fungi that causes decay in larger roots breaks down the roots, cuts off the nutrient supply and storage, and can damage the root structure that helps support large trees with heavy branches. There are many different diseases that can damage a tree’s roots, and even with proper care they could be susceptible; making sure your tree’s roots are in a strong and healthy condition gives your trees a better chance against any harm that may come their way.

The relationship between pruning and a growing tree

Because the root system will supply nutrients, water, and oxygen to the plant, when plants become damaged at the root sometimes the symptoms first appear above ground in the leaves. If the roots are damaged on one side of a tree, it may have trouble growing properly and this can even cause limbs to die. This is because the location of the roots is typically correlated to branches on the plant. With younger, newer trees pruning them may seem beneficial, however it is likely to have an overall negative impact on the health and the root system. When being transplanted many of the existing plant roots are left in the old soil and the plant is required to grow a new root system in new soil. When trees are pruned prior to this process it makes root growth even more difficult because the plant needs as much food as possible and the leaves are the main source. Avoid pruning any trees prior to planting in your yard or garden until they have gone through some healthy root growth and have a new developed root system

Long Term Root System Care

Promoting a healthy root system creates a healthy tree that will continue to grow. Many trees live many decades, even hundreds of years and a healthy foundation is vital to make sure your trees will have long, healthy lifespans. Understanding the signs of unhealthy roots and surrounding environment will be the warning signs to help you tackle any issues with your tree’s roots. Simple procedures like checking soil density and composition, providing the correct amount of water, not burying a tree’s root collar or covering the soil with too much mulch or plastic lining all can be the difference between a healthy root system and a tree struggling to maintain proper levels of water, nutrients, and oxygen.

Oxygen to Stay Healthy

Oxygen is a crucial part of the recipe for a growing plant or tree. Oxygen isn’t only a key part of growth at the end of branches, but also promotes healthy growth of roots under the surface. Dense, compacted soil or over-watered soil leaves very little space for oxygen to be present and this can have a big negative impact on the tree’s overall health. Because oxygen is more likely to be present near the surface of the soil many roots stay closer to the ground level in order to respirate. Soil that contains heavy clay is very easily compacted and commonly creates issues with trees grown in city environments. Make sure that your soil isn’t over watered, covered in too much mulch, or sealed up with plastic as all of these make it difficult for oxygen to be present and can be detrimental to your trees.

Types of roots trees grow

Healthy plant roots grow several different types of roots which all serve important functions for extracting nutrients and water from the soil surrounding trees. Some of the types of roots within a root system that you will likely encounter are taproots, fibrous roots, lateral roots, feeder roots, and root hairs. A taproot’s main objective is to grow quickly in order to locate water; this type of root often helps younger trees survive the earlier stages of their life.These roots help to secure the tree in the soil and grow down quite far. Fibrous roots spread as the trees mature and mainly grow horizontally instead of vertically like the taproots. These roots are typically very close to the surface of the soil and may have sinker roots or lateral roots shoot off to increase water absorption. Root hairs are smaller roots that work to increase the absorption of water and nutrients from the soil; these small roots can play a vital role in making sure a tree gets all of the nutrients it needs.

Providing for your Soil

Other than quality light exposure, trees requires water and oxygen; these two main factors impact the quality of roots and therefore the health of the tree itself. If the soil surrounding a tree’s roots doesn’t contain enough water a tree will have a difficult time getting the appropriate nutrients. Even though the soil may be nutrient dense if the soil doesn’t contain enough water the roots will not be able to  pull what it needs from the ground to provide for the plant. A root system that isn’t receiving enough water can result in a tree losing leaves. If the soil around the roots is getting too much water or suffering from soil compaction the root system may struggle to get enough oxygen. To better understand the state of the soil surrounding your roots, dig a small hole far enough away where you’re not under any tree limbs, also known as the dripline, and check to see if the soil is too dry.

Visual Guide to Healthy Roots

Maintaining the root health of a plant or tree is crucial for growing a healthy plant. Plants need soil, water, light, oxygen, and nutrients in order to thrive, and by keeping your roots healthy you’re well on your way to positive growth and excellent tree health. Understanding the visual cues you get from tree roots is a great first step in understanding the health of your tree. The root collar is at the base of the trunk where the roots flare out. This part of the plant should be partially visible above the soil line. If soil is covering this part of the roots the soil may retain too much water resulting in moisture being trapped around the root collar. When excess moisture surrounds the roots of a plant or tree it becomes susceptible to root disease and root rot. Sometimes mulch is placed around the base of a tree for visual appeal in a garden or landscaping to protect the roots while also allowing them to air out properly. Another visual sign that could point towards an issue with your plant’s root system is fungal fruiting at the base. Fungal growth along the base or in the nearby surrounding soil isn’t uncommon and depending on the fungus it can be treated into remission.

Consultations, Maintenance, and Estimates

Joseph Tree Urban Forest Specialists was an idea born from two brothers who had a passion for working with trees. Now as specialized arborists our team of trained and certified arbor professionals are able to bring their expertise to each and every one of our customers. Providing your trees with a healthy and well maintained root system will help your trees defend from disease, fungi, drought, and other harmful effects of malnutrition and other potentially damaging tree care mishaps. Whether in your yard or part of the landscaping at a property you manage, with our assistance we can help restore and strengthen trees to make sure they live throughout their lifespan and continue to grow. For consultations, maintenance, trimming, removal, and other tree care services reach out to us today for an estimate.