Cutting Tree Roots Without Killing Tree

reviewed by Truman Perkins

Do you ever imagine how an environment would look without trees? Nothing can compel the beauty of trees surrounding us. Landscape trees are ornamental to our lawns and block winds that could blow our structures. Additionally, trees provide shade and shelter for birds, critters, etc. However, some undesired roots growth can be potential hazards to foundation structures, walkways, and other vegetation. Careful cutting tree roots without killing trees can successfully prevent future predicaments associated.

The tree roots are the means through which the entire plant gets nutrients and water from the soil. This article emphasizes on correct approach when cutting tree roots without killing them.

Reasons Tree Roots May Grow Above the Ground

Tree roots’ location will always depend on the availability of resources. Generally, tree roots may go deeper in search of nutrients and water for survival. This means if those resources are located only on the surface, then roots will still thrive shallowly.

The main reason, however, could be soil erosion. The rainwater may carry the soil that initially covered the roots, leaving them bare. Wind and rainwater wipe away some inches of surface soil covering the roots, then roots become visible. Another reason, if the garden soil where the tree is growing has poor drainage. In this case, the roots will rise above the ground to reach for oxygen and moisture. Moreover, building structures or altering the landscaping of an area can cause roots to breach the surface.

Scenarios in Which Cutting Tree Roots Are Necessary

Cutting Tree Roots Without Killing Tree
Cutting Tree Roots Without Killing Tree

As said earlier, roots will grow undesired to counter constraints or achieve balance when drawing resources. The following are instances where cutting tree roots without killing a tree is unavoidable.

You must remove roots growing under structures and foundations. Maybe during building, the tree wasn’t there or was young, but later with age thickened. Thie roots may exert an upward force on the building, posing potential hazards like bending, warping, or raising it.

In another case, roots may grow above the ground. Roots may rise on the surface, possibly due to erosion or poorly drained soil growing upward to reach oxygen and moisture. Such roots need to be removed to prevent the unrestricted mobility of mowers and other tiller activities. Also may lead to foot traffic and safety concern to kids.

Guidelines to Follow When Cutting Roots

If you cut tree roots properly, it will still achieve a more robust, healthier, and deeper root system again. However, when unsure whether you can do it successfully, it is recommendable to hire a professional service below tips that will help you understand the process of cutting tree roots harmlessly.

  • Season. When you want to perform tree root pruning safely, let it be early spring or late winter. This is because tree functions are slow in the two seasons, and dehydration is minimal, damaging the tree.
  • Mind the distance. If the tree you are cutting roots is mature, measure the trunk diameter at breast height and multiply by 6. Then cut the root to avoid cutting any root below 5 times the diameter at breast height.
  • Young trees. Young, immature trees are constantly differentiating and multiplying cells. Thus have higher chances of recovering after root pruning. You can cut roots away just three times the diameter at breast height in such a case.
  • Make quadrant cuts. Never remove over 25% tree roots at once. For safer pruning, divide the entire area around the tree into four quadrants. Then just cut two quadrants that are opposite to each other. After like two years, you can cut the remaining quadrants.
  • Sterilize the saw. Before you begin cutting tree roots, it is advisable to sterilize the saw using an alcohol-drenched cloth. This is to prevent diseases and bacteria from forming on the open wound surface.

Tree Roots Cutting Stepwise Process

If you want to follow a do it your self guidelines, below are stepwise instructions to help cut tree roots without killing the plant. Even after cutting, you need to consider measures to prevent the roots from ever extending back to the undesired region.


Before powering your saw, water the ground around the tree thoroughly until the area is damp and soft. Now let the water drain through the soil, and the soil stops being soggy.

Step 2

 Using the hand trowel, loosen the soil by turning the top layer. You can remove all the soil surrounding the roots to be trimmed linearly using a trowel bland carefully not to stab.

Step 3.

Carefully, hand removes the soil, placing it on the wheelbarrow temporarily. Continue scooping the soil out and underneath the roots using a trowel.

Step 4.

Start by cutting the ends that need to trim. Then make clean cuts using the root saw, keeping the distance of 5 times the breast height from the trunk. Do not cut the roots beyond the quadrant area.

Step 5.

After cutting roots as needed, dig a thin trench right in front of pruned roots. On the trench, fill with concrete or embed plastic or metal barrier to prevent the roots from regrowing back. Using a 12-inch high barrier and 10-inch long barrier can mean better protection to the sources.

Step 6. 

Finally, cover the root and the barrier with the previously excavated soil. You may blend the ground before covering it with compost or other manure, if any is available. After like six weeks, add some fertilizers to make the root system more vigorous. Continue watering the ground for some weeks unless it is raining.


Cutting tree roots is not an exciting activity since a tree plays a crucial role in flora and fauna. Above all, cutting tree roots is equivalent to slicing a human throat, a medium for taking in food and air. So, root pruning reduces vigor or a tree’s ability to take in water and nutrients. This further weakens trees making them more vulnerable to pests and disease. Some mature trees, in many cases, do not survive the woods.

Cutting tree roots without killing trees requires careful following the above steps. Otherwise, if you are not sure to follow the process right, consult the tree roots, removal expert.

About Truman Perkins

Truman Perkins is a Detroit-based SEO consultant who's been in the business for over a decade. He got his start helping friends and clients get their websites off the ground, and he continues to do so today. In his free time, Truman enjoys learning and writing about gardening - something he believes is a natural stress reliever. He lives with his wife, Jenny, and their twins in Detroit.

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