Root of the Matter

View PDF
Published on

  Tonight I am doing a program at Secrest Arboretum in the Ohio Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture series for arborist certification. We will be learning together about “Tree Biology”, so let’s remind ourselves – and teach others – about “the root of the matter.”  Here are four maxims about the critical, but often overlooked by many, key to plant health: roots.


  First, from Nina Bassuk of Cornell, speaking of mature landscape and community forest trees:  


1). Tap roots are rarely present.

2). Most (> 90%) roots in upper 3 ft. of soil.

3). Of these, most (>80%) of the “feeder roots” are in the upper 6- 8 in. of the soil.

4). Horizontal spread is 2.5 – 3.0 times crown spread.

5).  Most roots (>60%) are outside of drip-line.


Healthy roots



  Tree root systems are shallow and spreading!


  Second, from Serita Fry, when at OSU, speaking of the biological nature of soils:


  In an Average Cup of Healthy Forest Soil, There Are:


1). Arthropods - 50,000

2). Nematodes - 100,000

3). Protozoa: - 20 million

4). Bacteria: - 200 billion

5). Fungi: - 60 miles of fungal hyphae


  And this life of the soil is encouraged by soil aggregates that are encouraged by organic matter!


Beech roots




  Third, from OSU Extension’s Erik Draper:


Plant’em high - watch’em die;
Plant’em low - never grow
Plant’em right - sleep at night!


  Roots need oxygen!


  Fourth, turning to Robert Frost and the world of arts as well as sciences:


A tree’s leaves

may be ever so good,

so may its bark,

so may its wood;

But unless you put

the right thing to its root,

It never will show

much flower or fruit.”


     Remember the Roots!


Roots in waterside and woodland setting