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Elm root growth.

Q: Where can we find out how elm tree roots grow? How deep and how wide do they go out? We have a champion tree and need to drill beside it, but do not want to hurt it.

Chris & Fritz Korzendorfer, via email

A: Contrary to common thinking, the tree root system is not a "reflection" of the tree's crown. Roots go no deeper than necessary to gather the nutrients needed to support photosynthesis. In fact, something like 90 percent of the roots will be in the top foot or less of soil, and, for most trees, 90 percent of those will be in the top 6 inches. Elms are known for their ability to send roots deep to get to water, but in Virginia and other eastern states where there is relatively abundant rainfall, the tree will use its energy to more fully tap into the surface layers of water, which are better oxygenated. Roots will spread laterally well beyond the width of the tree's crown, and the root tips are where the lion's share of nutrient intake occurs. With that as background, the recommendation is to drill as far out as possible, and make the hole as small as possible. If you have to get close to the trunk, a wide feeding area can be severed, and possibly result in a "streak" of vascular tissue on that side of the tree dying, leading to the death of some limbs above.
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Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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