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Prevention and Control of Tree Root Damage

Water and Sewer Line Friendly Trees

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For managed landscapes near sewer lines, water-seeking trees should be replaced every eight to 10 years before they grow too big. This would limit the distance that roots grow outside the planting area and the time they would have to grow into sewer line cracks, as well as foundations, sidewalks and other infrastructure.

The University of Tennessee recommends these steps for prevention of tree root damage:

  • Plant small, slow-growing trees near sewer lines.
  • If faster-growing species are desired, plan to replace trees every eight to 10 years.
  • Even slow-growing trees will eventually interfere with sewer lines. These trees must be replaced periodically.
  • When building new sewer lines or improving existing lines, consider landscaping plans and potential root intrusion from trees.
  • If you have to plant a tree, choose small, slow-growing species, varieties or cultivars with less aggressive root systems and to replace them before they get too large for their planting area. There are no safe trees, but by using small, slower-growing trees, sewer lines should be safer from the intrusion of tree roots.

    UT also recommends these common trees as planting options near water and sewer lines: Amur maple, Japanese maple, dogwood, redbud, and fringetree.

    There are some options if you already have tree root damage to your lines. There are products that contain slow-release chemicals that prevent root growth. Other root barriers can include very compact layers of soil; chemical layers such as sulfur, sodium, zinc, borate, salt or herbicides; air gaps using large stones; and solid barriers like plastic, metal and wood. Each of these barriers can be effective in the short term, but long-term results are difficult to guarantee and can significantly harm the tree. Seek professional advice when using these options.

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