Why Are Tree Roots Important?

The saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”  This is especially true for tree roots.  We often fail to think about our trees’ roots until there is a problem with the tree, or we are trying to dig a hole in the yard.  What most people do not realize is that the root system of a tree spreads out to an average of three times the canopy of the tree.  This means, if your tree’s branches reach five feet out from the trunk in every direction, the root system probably stretches 15 feet.  However, most of the roots are only in the top two feet of earth.  While occasional plants will send out tap roots much, much deeper, most trees spread roots only throughout the water table, which is near the surface.

The primary function of a root system is to obtain and store nutrients for the tree.  While plants use leaves to turn light into energy, water, minerals, and oxygen come from the roots.  This is why it is important to maintain a healthy level of moisture and nutrients in the soil around the tree.  During winter, the tree will store food in the roots.  Under the ground, the roots are safer than the rest of the plant from frost and storm damage.  As the weather warms, the tree releases food from the roots and moves it to the limbs for fresh growth.

Tree roots also perform the vital function of stabilizing the tree.  A healthy root system anchors a tree in the ground, allowing it to withstand harsh winds and other forces.  Without strong roots, the tree would fall over.  This function also helps to prevent soil erosion.  The roots form a sort of net throughout the dirt, helping keep the soil from blowing away in the wind or washing away during rain.  

Roots are a vital part of a of a tree’s anatomy.  They feed, strengthen, and anchor the rest of the plant.  Any signs of trouble with tree roots should be taken seriously, and a tree care professional consulted.