Thread: Caring for a large Oak tree...

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  1. #1

    Join Date
    May 2005
    central Florida

    Caring for a large Oak tree...

    When we 1st purchsed our house 2 years ago, a major selling point was the beautiful Oak tree in the front yard. Today however after 4 major hurricanes blasted through here and my driveway slowly being split into 4 large pieces, I'm rethinking this love affair.
    I'm not ready to take her down yet, but I need some help in maintaing this tree, 1st off can I cut the roots breaking up my driveway? It would probably only be a few of them, but I keep hearing horror stories of the tap root, the TAP root! Don't cut the TAP root, you'll kill the tree!
    2nd, what is the correct way to prune an Oak? I need to thin it to allow the wind to pass through better, but I also want to cut down the overall bulk (height & width) of the plume.
    Any suggections would be greatly appreciated!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Ocala, FL

    RE: Caring for a large Oak tree...

    Okay, first of all, people's ideas about the "tap root" are a bit inflated. Some folks have an idea that some trees have a root system shaped sort of like a carrot, one big tap root with lots of smaller roots going to the side. That's not the case. Very young oak seedling roots actually do look a little like that, but before too long they branch and start spreading outward. Even trees with deep root systems are mostly spread laterally out like a web away from the trunk (generally with the majority of the roots within the top 30cm of soil). Some trees (especially some that are adapted to droughty soils) will send down scattered vertical roots in search of water, but roots need to "breathe" and for the most part cannot get enough oxygen if the root system goes straight down, although there may be a larger, deeper root in the center which helps anchor the tree.

    I'm assuming this is a live oak (Quercus virginiana). Unless there are signs of significant rot, these trees are very hurricane-resistant. Generally no pruning to thin the canopy is required - if the wind gets to be too much, the tree will start shedding twigs and foliage to compensate (as you probably saw). Prune out dead or rotting limbs. Especially with an old tree, cutting into live, healthy wood is something to be avoided as much as possible.

    Which brings me to the roots. Yes, if you cut the roots you will harm the tree. How badly you harm the tree depends on the quantity and size of the roots you cut, among other things. It is possible to make a tree unsafe (likely to fall without warning) by cutting roots willy-nilly. Additionally, if the oak recovers it will continue to regenerate roots, so it's a temporary fix if you're trying to build too close. A beautiful mature live oak will usually add much more to the appearance and value of your property than having the perfect driveway will - I would suggest using strategies to build around the oak's major root zone, rather than through it.

  3. #3
    Super Moderator Oak Quirky Quercus's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004

    RE: Caring for a large Oak tree...

    Here's a look underneath the hood for your viewing pleasure.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Burns, Oregon

    RE: Caring for a large Oak tree...

    Very interesting view! I know I have seen hand-drawn pictures of what a root system looks like, but still had no idea so much was so close to the surface.

    Would an Elm have a similar root structure? How about evergreen trees?

    Hacienda de Elia
    Peruvian Paso Horses

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Ocala, FL

    RE: Caring for a large Oak tree...

    Yup, it's true for elms and conifers too. There are exceptions, like mesquite (a desert plant) which has a thick taproot that goes down as far as 50 feet to find the water table.

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