New Fences & Tree Roots

Cut the fence post,
not the tree roots!

2012 TreeBoss

Q. I have many very old Maple trees on my property.  Recently we decided to fence in part of our yard that was close to a row of these beauties.  We specifically told the company that we wanted the fence to be manipulated so that the trees would in no way be harmed, but much to our dismay, they notched a large root of one of the maple trees. They chipped away a line that is about 5 inches deep on one side and gradually gets less deep.  The cut is about a foot wide. Is this a death sentence for my beautiful maple? 'Wanting to cry in NY'

A. This is yet another case of a tree being treated like a wooden plank instead of a living thing. It would have taken a bit longer, but the fence should have either been cut to fit over the root, or modified in some way to prevent damage to your Maple tree. Cutting tree roots, especially on the basal flare of the trunk, can create an expressway for pathogens to enter the tree through the open wound, since there are destructive pathogens already present in the soil. Any open wound on a tree can create an opportunity for insects and disease.


new fence vs tree root
Fence looks great, what about the tree?

Cutting major roots can also make a tree more susceptible to wind throw, being blown over by high wind gusts.

Large cut on the Maple tree's basal flare
Ouch... imagine that chunk being taken out of your leg!

I would suggest dusting off the cut and painting the area with a quality tree paint. While it is not recommended to paint branch cuts, it is still recommended to paint root cuts. If you can't immediately locate a quality tree paint, you could use orange shellac, which is often used to paint the edges of freshly trimmed tree bark. It has an "antiseptic" quality which helps with the potential pathogen issue.

Only wood or living tissue?
Destructive pathogens are already present in most soil,
just waiting for opportunities like this

Maples tend to "bleed" (sap oozing out of wounds) but it doesn't look like you are experiencing any bleeding, probably because the Maple is fully leafed-out. If the wound was bleeding, it would make the tree paint difficult to apply. Maple bleeding isn't usually a serious issue, but it does alarm people. It occurs most often in early spring and late fall, when a Maple isn't fully dormant, but the leaves are off.
It could be several years down the road before "Wanting to cry in NY" knows the full result of this thoughtless act. In the meantime, her best course of action is to keep the tree vigorous through proper pruning and tree care.


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