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Trees/Harming Douglas Fir trees


I have a group of Douglas Fir trees.(20)Some of the roots are going out into the proposed alleyway. Raising the group about 4 or 5 inches high. People want to pave the road. They want to cut the roots off so they can do this. They say they are going to do this even if we do not want them to. With so many trees and the roots systems of each tree intertwining together, I am very worried that they will fall down in a strong wind. The tree(s) in question is apoximately 30 inches through. With my extreme concern I hope that you could get back to me as soon as posible.

Thank You very much. Dave Lee...Everett, WA

Generally the roots system is within the first 24-36 inches of soil and extends out about 1 1/2 times the width of the branches in all directions. Firs have a tap roots system also that will extend deep into the soil just below the trunk.

You can cut up to about 20% of the roots without causing serious damage to the tree. Normally, twenty percent of the tree's roots can be cut before any signs of stress will appear, however, keep in mind that tree roots do extend outside of the protected root zone. Think of the surface under a tree as a pie and slice through the "pie" to determine the amount of the roots that were cut. The damage will show up either this growing season or the next by the foliage starting to die back.
Healthy root systems below ground are vital for tree vigor and longevity. Roots are responsible for water and mineral nutrient uptake, energy storage, and anchorage. If for any reason tree roots are damaged, tree health will be jeopardized.
Because roots work quietly out of sight underground, most people have a poor understanding of this important subterranean network. In general, roots grow where the resources of life (water, oxygen, and mineral nutrients# are available. They usually will not grow where there is no oxygen or where the soil is compacted and hard to penetrate. This need for oxygen explains why a majority of tree roots are located in the top 12 to 18 inches of soil. Root systems are also extensive. They often extend outward from the tree trunk to occupy an irregularly shaped area 1 1/2  to 2 times larger than the crown #branch) spread. It is easy to see why any type of soil disturbance near trees can, and usually does cause damage. As trees mature in the landscape they attain a rather delicate balance with their surrounding environment. In fact, trees grow best in an environment of minimal change.  

You should not have any problems with stability since firs have the tap roots and you are not cutting the tap root system. Tap roots grow down under the trunk rather than out from the trunk. I think you will get some dieback of the foliage from the root damage but overall it should be ok. I hope this helps.  


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Jim Hyland


I am an expert in Forestry, Forest Entomology, Forest Pest Control, and Forest Health. Extensive knowledge in Identification of insects and diseases of trees. Expert on Bark beetles and other insects that attack forests. Also a Registrated Forester with extensive knowledge in the management and care of forests.


34 years as State Pest Management Chief in a Southern state. Extensive knowledge in Forestry.

BS with major in Forest Management and Entomology
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