Root Growth: Planning a Trouble-Free Landscape

Designing a landscape takes more than preference, light, and the natural setup of your yard into account.

Tree and shrubbery roots may be slow growing, but they are strong. They can easily damage your utility lines, especially your sewage lines. It’s not uncommon for roots to break or clog underground pipes, causing leaks, backups, or burst pipes.

You can minimize the chances of root-related damage by planning a sewer-friendly landscape.

Root Growth: Planning a Trouble-Free Landscape

Root Growth: Planning a Trouble-Free Landscape - Tidal Wave ResponseTrees and shrubs are wonderful additions to any yard. They provide shade, natural mulch, a great appearance, and a natural habitat for wildlife.

Tree roots are drawn to sewer lines because the pipes are a great source of oxygen, water, and nutrients, all of which are essential for healthy tree growth.

Tree root growth largely depends on the rooting environment. The roots will go to – or stay in – an area which provides an optimal supply of resources.

Planning a sewer-friendly landscape largely involves creating favorable conditions for trees and shrubs where you want them, and discouraging growth near your utility lines.

Install a root barrier

Root barriers are great ways to protect your utility lines without having to pull out existing landscaping.

There are three main types of root barriers:

  1. Growth inhibitors: Chemicals which stop root growth without harming the tree; applied near utilities or sewer lines to deter growth.
  2. Deflectors: Physical barriers usually made of plastic or wood which are buried near pipes to keep out root growth.
  3. Traps: Metal or plastic screens installed over the ends of pipes. The tips of roots may enter, but not full roots.

Choose smaller and slow growing species

Being selective about your trees and shrubs is another way to avoid utility disruptions – although this method only postpones root invasion.

Atlanta’s climate is friendly for a wide variety of trees and shrubs, so you have plenty of options to choose from.

Research and revise your design

If you are designing your landscape from scratch, first obtain a copy of your home’s sewer lateral, if you don’t have it already. Plan your design to accommodate underground utility lines.

  • Pick trees and shrubs which do not have wide-spreading or aggressive root systems.
  • Not all trees and shrubs pose a threat to your utilities. Ask your local nursery for advice when choosing trees for your landscape.
  • Plant trees and shrubs with enough distance from your sewer Iines that roots will have difficulty reaching.
  • Limit the number of trees you plant near sewer lines.
  • Consider alternatives to your landscape designs, such as fences as boundaries or to block wind, trellises for shade, and potted trees or shrubs.

Keep your trees happy

Tree roots travel in search of water and food. Plant your trees in deep pits of well-loosened soil, and fertilize as needed. Water your trees regularly so they are encouraged not to wander.

Trees to Plant

Root Growth: Planning a Trouble-Free Landscape - Tidal Wave ResponseThese trees have shallow or slow-growing root systems which are less likely to damage underground pipes.

  • Crabapple
  • Gingko
  • Japanese Maple
  • Pagoda Trees

Trees to Avoid

These trees have deep, aggressive root systems that can damage or destroy your underground pipes.

  • Poplars
  • American Elm
  • Willows
  • Silver Maple

Alternative Landscaping

If you absolutely do not want the headache of damaged utility lines, your best bet will be to avoid large trees and get creative!

You can still have an attractive and eye-catching landscape without including large trees. Flowers, potted trees, structures such as trellises, pergolas, and other garden decor can all lend interest to a landscape.

Moving a Problem Tree

When moving into a home with an existing landscape, you don’t get to choose what’s already there. However, it’s possible to move trees which are in problem spots.

You generally want to hire a professional service when transplanting large trees. Small trees can be unwieldy without the right equipment, but can be done yourself in most cases.

Remember that the transplanted tree has the best chance of survival if you plan and prepare the new location.

Warning Signs of Piping Problems

When it comes to tree root damage in your plumbing, the problem may not be immediately noticeable, but build over time. On the other hand, it could be instantly problematic.

Keep an eye out for:

  • Slow flowing drains
  • Gurgling sounds from toilet
  • Recurrent clogs
  • Overflow into sinks, toilets, and tubs

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