Christina Wells: Protecting Tree Roots

Christina Wells: 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 Gardens where we have shown that cherries and maples planted as little as six inches too deep in the landscape have an extremely poor survival rate and in some cases can develop girdling root problems that will kill them ten to fifteen years in the future.

What you need to do when you bring a new tree home is to first identify the root flair. That’s the place where major woody structural roots emerge from the trunk. That root flair needs to be located right at the top of the soil line. You may need to scoop down four or five inches of soil to identify it. Once you have found the root flair, dig your root hole so that it’s just the same distance as the depth of the new root ball.

Place that new root flair at grade. Then give your tree a nice mulch ring – at least three 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 would like more information on this and other landscape tree root issues, come to our website at the Clemson University Department of Horticulture.

Christina Wells
Clemson University Department of Horticulture