Protecting Tree Roots

by Dr. Christina Wells, Associate Professor, Department of Horticulture, Clemson University



When you bring a new tree home from the nursery to plant in your landscape, you probably imagine that you need to plant it nice and deep so that the roots have plenty of room to grow. In fact, our research at the Clemson University Department of Horticulture, shows that you couldn't be more wrong. I'm Christina Wells and behind me are my research plots at the South Carolina Botanical Garden where we have shown that cherries and maples, planted as little as 6 inches too deep in the landscape, have extremely poor survival rates and in some cases can develop girdling root problems that will kill them 10 to 15 years in the future. What you need to do when you bring a new tree home is to first identify the root flare. That's the place where major, woody, structural roots emerge from the trunk. That root flare needs to be located right at the top of the soil line. You may need to scoop down 4 or 5 inches of soil to identify it. Once you've found the root flare, dig your root hole so that it's just the same distance as the depth of the new root ball. Place that new root flare at grade. Then give your tree a nice mulch ring at least 3 feet from the trunk and keep an eye on the water levels. That should allow your tree to perform properly in the landscape. If you'd like more information on this and other landscape tree root issues, come to our web site at the Clemson University Department of Horticulture.

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.