Can tree roots break through concrete?

Roots rarely cause significant damage to concrete foundations. Occasionally, roots can find their way through existing cracks and enlarge them. But as long as you maintain your base, you're unlikely to have problems with tree roots. When tree roots absorb water, the soil moisture level decreases, causing contraction.

This contraction causes the underground soil to move and the concrete base is altered. The same thing happens when water is lost during perspiration; pressure develops under concrete and causes it to crack. For concrete slab foundations, what usually happens is that tree roots seek water and find it beneath the concrete slab. The soil under the slab collapses and the base can crack without the necessary soil pressure on the bottom.

Tree roots present an even greater potential problem for concrete surfaces. They move through cement in the same way as smaller plants, but with much greater potential energy. Trees close to concrete areas could push roots below and across the surface, causing costly damage and dangerous cracks in the slab. You may have to cut the roots or even remove the tree to permanently resolve this problem.

While trees are viable additions to the landscape, their roots can occupy areas destined for other plants and ruin elaborate and expensive plantations. As some tree species age, roots become visible through the soil surface, a process aided by wind and erosion. Trees that grow close together are sometimes forced to compete for a limited amount of water and nutrients, and gardening is limited in the spaces that surround them and between them because of the intertwined roots that grow just below the surface of the soil. If placed too thinly over a nearby area or between trees, the asphalt can bend, bulge and eventually crack.

While tree roots don't normally penetrate solid concrete, walkways and other paved areas can bend due to soil movement generated by roots. Clay soil is easily compacted and becomes denser with the presence of tree roots. On the other hand, soil composed of loose soil and rock tends to move, allowing roots to break through easily. The type of soil under the house is a good indicator of the damage that tree roots could cause to the foundation of the house or to a concrete pool.

Because they are constantly searching for water and nutrients, tree roots grow continuously and the impact of this depends on the type of soil where the tree is planted. Tree roots can exacerbate this problem, as they also remove moisture from the soil (since they need it to survive). You must be very mindful when cutting and never removing roots, more than twenty percent of the roots of trees that are above ground. Although you may have heard that roots take up almost as much space as the tree itself, the truth is that the root system of a tree can be approximately three times wider than the tall tree.

While there is no irrefutable guarantee that a tree's roots won't someday reach under a base or to a leach bed, planting trees at least 50 feet away from all structures or systems is a good start. Other things that can remove moisture from the soil are gardens, poorly insulated basements and drainage pipes, so many times the dry soil was caused by other things and the tree took the blame. A more effective way to control stubborn roots is to simply remove or cut down the tree that is causing the problem in the first place. You should never pave the roots of a tree unless a permeable material or aeration system is installed, as doing so will almost certainly kill the tree and cause a lot of problems in the future.

As for established plantations that cause problems, sometimes the only solution is to cut down the tree and remove as much of the root system as possible before repairing damaged structures.

Sunshine Coast Arborist Tree Service
89 Little Mountain Dr, Little Mountain QLD 4551, Australia
1800 951 221

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