Aggressive roots - Liquidambar

Aggressive roots – Liquidambar

Liquidambar Trees and Their Aggressive Root Systems:

Liquidambar trees, also known as sweetgums, are admired for their stunning fall colors and attractive spiky fruits. However, their root systems can cause serious problems for property owners, arborists, and communities. In this article, we’ll explore the causes and consequences of liquidambar root damage and provide practical tips on how to manage and prevent it.

Understanding Liquidambar Root Systems: Why Are They Aggressive?

Liquidambar trees have deep and extensive root systems that can extend up to three times the tree’s height and beyond. This is due to their native habitat, which features hot summers, periodic droughts, and nutrient-poor soils. To survive, liquidambar trees have evolved adaptive strategies such as:

  • Extensive root systems that can access water and nutrients from a large soil volume.
  • Taproots that penetrate deep into the soil to reach groundwater reserves.
  • Fine root hairs that absorb moisture and nutrients efficiently.
  • Symbiotic relationships with soil fungi that help them access nutrients and water.

While these adaptations allow liquidambar trees to thrive in their natural environment, they can cause serious problems when planted in urban or suburban settings. Liquidambar roots can grow rapidly and aggressively, seeking out water and nutrients wherever they can find them. This can result in damage to hardscape features such as sidewalks, driveways, and foundations, clogging of drainage systems leading to flooding and erosion, competition with other plants for water and nutrients, disruption of underground utilities such as water and sewer pipes, gas lines, and electrical conduits, and increased risk of windthrow and tree failure due to weakened root systems.

Managing Liquidambar Root Damage: Strategies and Case Studies

Choosing the right tree species for your site is the best way to avoid liquidambar root damage. If planting new trees, consult an arborist or horticulturist to help select species suited to soil type, moisture levels, and other site conditions. Alternative species to consider instead of liquidambar trees include:

  • Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
  • Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
  • American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
  • Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)
  • American Sweetgale (Myrica gale)
Installing Root Barriers to Redirect Roots Away from Sensitive Areas

Installing root barriers to redirect roots away from sensitive areas such as sidewalks, foundations, and drainage systems may be necessary for existing liquidambar trees. Root barriers are physical barriers made of materials such as plastic or geotextile fabric that can be installed vertically into the soil to create a boundary that roots cannot penetrate. They can be installed before or after tree planting, but are most effective when installed before roots have established themselves in the sensitive area.

Managing Aggressive Liquidambar Root Systems

For liquidambar trees with aggressive root systems, it’s important to manage them properly to prevent damage to surrounding structures. Installing root barriers made of high-density polyethylene around the tree to restrict root growth in certain areas is an effective way to manage aggressive root systems. It’s crucial to ensure the root barrier is installed correctly, as any gaps or holes can allow roots to continue causing damage.

Another option for managing aggressive root systems is to remove the tree altogether. However, removing a tree with aggressive roots is a difficult and potentially dangerous process and should be done by a certified arborist. Consider replacing the tree with a less invasive species or a smaller cultivar of the liquidambar that has a less aggressive root system.

There have been many examples of how to manage aggressive liquidambar root systems in the past. In some cases, homeowners have chosen to remove the tree entirely and replace it with a less aggressive species or cultivar. In other cases, root barriers have been installed to restrict root growth and prevent damage to surrounding structures. One example of how arborists have managed aggressive liquidambar root systems is through root pruning. Root pruning involves selectively removing roots to restrict their growth and prevent damage to surrounding structures. However, this process can be risky and should only be done by a trained professional to avoid damage to the tree’s root system.

Is Liquidambar a Good Tree to Plant?

While liquidambar trees are prized for their attractive foliage and fast growth, their aggressive root systems make them a risky choice for planting near homes and other structures. If you are considering planting a liquidambar, it is important to carefully consider its potential impact on your property and surrounding structures. If you do choose to plant a liquidambar, make sure to plant it in an area with plenty of space to accommodate its root system and to manage it properly to prevent damage.

What Are Better Options if Not?

There are many alternative tree species that are less aggressive and more suitable for planting near homes and other structures. Some good options include Japanese maple, dogwood, redbud, and serviceberry. These trees have more contained root systems and are less likely to cause damage to surrounding structures.

Liquidambar trees are beautiful and admired for their stunning fall colors and attractive spiky fruits. However, their aggressive root systems can cause serious problems for property owners, arborists, and even entire communities. It is important to carefully consider the potential risks of planting a liquidambar tree near homes and other structures and to choose alternative tree species with less aggressive root systems. For existing liquidambar trees, managing and preventing root damage through root barriers and other strategies can help protect surrounding structures and prevent costly damage.

Interesting Facts about Liquidambar Trees
  • Liquidambar trees are also known as sweetgum trees.
  • The spiky fruits of the liquidambar are called “gumballs” or “monkey balls” and are often used in crafts and home decor.
  • The resin of the liquidambar tree has been used for medicinal and industrial purposes for centuries.
  • Liquidambar trees can live for over 400 years in optimal conditions.
  • In addition to its fall color, the liquidambar tree also has attractive glossy leaves that turn bright green in the spring.
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