Why Do Trees Uproot?

Posted on: September 30th, 2011 by Ben Vanderbeck
Last Update: October 10th, 2012
Hurricane Irene came and went, but it did leave a large impact on the tri-state area. Damage was caused by flooding waters and toppling trees. Trees uprooted and took down wires, fell on houses, and shut down roads. In my ever growing education on trees, the damages caused from uprooting trees did not strike me as odd, or out of the ordinary. It just seems to be expected because of how we, as a society, treat trees. So why do trees uproot?
Our culture is very needy. We need sidewalks, driveways, gas and water lines, underground electric, septic systems, sprinklers, and manicured lawns. All of these things affect the tree’s root systems. People fail to realize how important tree roots are. Trees roots are overlooked, in most cases, because they are invisible. There is a saying, “Out of site, out of mind”, but that should never apply to the roots of a tree.
Yard construction plays a major role in damaging trees. When contractors plan a job, the last thing they consider are the tree’s roots. Roots do not go as deep as previously thought. They will only go as deep as water and air are available.


These two pictures show a contractor at the construction phase of a project. He dug out all of the anchoring roots of the oak tree. The large roots that are laying next to the trunk of the tree were the anchoring roots. The anchoring roots keep the tree from tipping over. In order for the tree to maintain its place in the landscape, it will need a strong root system to keep it vigorous and stable. In ideal conditions the tree should have a root system extending to at least the drip line. View the pictures below to see more examples of trees toppling because of new construction damaging the anchoring roots.


Newly planted trees are also at high risk of uprooting in high winds. Unlike naturally planted trees, the root systems are cut down purposely to make transportation easier. During the first few years the newly planted tree may not look like it is growing much. That’s because the root system is beginning to re-establish. As the years progress the likelihood of the tree blowing over gets less and less. If uprooting is not an option, it can be mitigated by a guying system. A guying system or tree support system is a way to strengthen a tree with a weak root system. A guying system should never be a permanent solution. It should be left in just long enough for the root system to regrow. View the pictures below to see a newly planted tree that was blown over and fixed with a guying system.


A root system of a newly planted tree depends greatly on it’s planting. Removing the burlap and metal basket are crucial for the future health of a tree. Just view my other post on proper tree planting. Tree’s will not only uproot because of the two reason I explained. Heavy rains and high winds can, and do take down trees. Limiting the outside interference with a trees roots system does lower the risk of a tree uprooting. So the next time work is being done, be sure to mention to the contractor about the tree’s roots.
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Ben Vanderbeck New Jersey CTE #573; ISA Certified Arborist NJ-1081A
Tom Vanderbeck Jr. ISA Certified Arborist NJ-1080A