By Lucas Rumancik, Certified Arborist
Before I put my climbing harness on and enter a tree to do tree trimming,I do a multi-part tree inspection. When I see that a tree’s roots flare out at the base, I am pleased. Root flare is an important element for healthy trees. First, it allows for proper root anchorage. Second, it promotes nutrient uptake such as minerals and water. A lack of flare can lead to structural instability. As a consequence, there can be increased risk of windthrow and uprooting.
Last week there was a tree-related tragedy at the San Antonio zoo. You may recall seeing the news on this. It was a beautiful spring day filled with crowds of people. A large branch (mega size) unexpectedly broke off and fell on seven people, injuring one critically. The tree was reportedly healthy. Our lead Certified Arborist, Shane Kelly, was interviewed by Kens5 news station about branch breakage and tree failure. He said regular inspections in an urban setting are important but tree branch failure is not necessarily preventable. A visual assessment cannot always detect hidden damage.
When I was getting my Certified Arborist license, one of the books I studied was called “The Body Language of Trees.” Author C Mattheck said in urban environments it can be especially difficult to assess the stability of trees. Often the soil is compacted, which puts stress on the trees. Beneath the soil, the tree roots may be challenged by both mother nature and man-made conditions like concrete pathways. These can lead to an unhealthy or uneven root flare or lack of root flare to begin with. Most of the roots live within about 8 inches of the soil’s surface. They depend on a certain amount of pourous space in the soil which acts as a place for water and oxygen.
How can home owners encourage root flare?
Home owners have an excellent opportunity to ensure a young tree that is being planted gets off to a good start. First they should dig a hole that is twice as wide and just as deep as the container or root ball of the tree being planted. This will give the roots room to spread out and create better stability for the tree. When the tree is removed from the pot and before placing in the ground, the tree roots should be gently pulled away or loosened from the soil ball. This will help prevent the roots from growing in a tight circle at the base of the tree.
Once a tree is established, roots should not be driven over or cut, especially the section of the roots within a few feet of the tree. Lawn care personnel should avoid using a weed eater to trim grass next to the roots. It can damage the roots. Also, anything a homeowner can do to avoid compacting the surrounding soil will be important as well. Uncompacted soil holds water and oxygen for the tree.
Lucas Rumancik is a Certified Arborist in San Antonio who has been with Canopy Tree Service for five years.