Today’s episode is brought to you by the letter ‘T’.
This is not Sesame Street.
Nor is this freshly painted concrete ‘T’ a monogram that designates the garden as mine. Even I am not ‘that’ vain.
It is part of a sign at the train depot. There happen to be enough of the right letters for my last name. I suppose that with a pry bar and a shovel, I could be ‘that’ vain.
There is no ‘Y’, so my first name would not work, particularly in conjunction with my last name, which would take the only ‘T’ and ‘O’ available. Am I really vain enough to be putting this much thought into this? Oh my!
For right now, I should only be concerned with keeping the vegetation clear of the sign. The amaryllis foliage above barely flops into it. The overgrown photinia hedge behind the amaryllis was just removed. The arborvitaes that will be installed to replace the photinia hedge will not likely get wide enough to ever reach the sign. They will be set several feet back. We are still trying to decide what to install between the arborvitaes, which will be far enough from each other so that they will not become a continuous hedge like the photinia were.
You would not believe how many bay trees and valley oak trees were trying to grow amongst the photinia! They ranged in size from fresh seedlings all the way up to a nearly six inch wide coppiced stump of a valley tree that was cut down a few years ago. There are still a few small oaks that must be removed nearby. We want to remove them while we are working on the site, and before they get big enough to displace the concrete letters with their roots.
Root pruning is nothing new. It is done more commonly than we think about for many aggressive perennials like lily-of-the-Nile, that like to disperse their roots into areas where we want to grow more docile annual bedding plants or vegetables. We might do it halfway, or more, around a shrubby plant during spring or summer if we plant on digging and moving it the following autumn. For most small and low profile plants, root pruning is sort of tolerable. The plants that we do it to may not like it, but it is sometimes necessary, and better than not doing so.
Trees are not like most small and low profile plants. Most are very sensitive to root pruning when mature. They are not so proficient at replacing the portions of their root systems that they are deprived of. Large roots that get severed are very susceptible to decay, which slowly migrates inward to the rest of the root system. Obviously, depriving trees of roots compromises stability to some extent. Because roots are below grade, it is impossible to know the extent of the damage caused by root pruning while it is being performed. This is a classic example.
The exposed freshly cut surface to the left in the picture above is not the stump of a small tree that was just cut down. Although it is, in this picture, a horizontally oriented cut surface of what seems to have been something that was standing vertically, it was actually cut vertically through a horizontally oriented root. Yes, that is it in the yellow oval to the right. It was cut because it was displacing the adjacent asphalt pavement, as demonstrated by the picture below. Rather that trouble us with this concern, the resident of the adjacent home cut the root of this mature photinia tree to protect his driveway from more damage.
The problem was that the major root that was severed was all that was supporting the tree. (The cut surface of the severed root is in the middle of the picture below.) The roots to the left and right of it may seem to be substantial in the picture below, but were mostly decayed stubs left from earlier root pruning. I was able to wrestle the stump out to dispose of it, without cutting more roots. The lack of other substantial roots is probably why the primary root was so big and expanding actively enough to displace the pavement.
The funny thing about all this is that I would have done the same thing. I would have determined that, although the tree would be very distressed by the loss of such a major root, it should not have been too terribly destabilized, and should have been likely to eventually recover. Even if it eventually succumbed to the distress, the loss of this mature but small tree would have been a better option relative to continued damage to the paved driveway. I certainly would not have expected it to simply fall over as it so comically did. The picture below shows what had been vertical trunks of the photinia tree that were quite horizontal after it fell over. The fractured asphalt pavement is visible at the far right edge. The top of the tree reached the center line in the adjacent roadway. I am sorry that I did not get a more amusing picture of it blocking the lane. I was in too much of a rush to clear the roadway at the time. This was something that I really was not expecting to encounter at work.
When a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does! There is just no one to hear it. Why should that be such a profound question? A falling tree makes a mess too. Anyone who does not see or hear it in action can witness it afterward. Sometimes, roots that were inadequate to support the fallen tree become exposed as well.
There is certainly nothing unnatural about trees falling in forests. Otherwise, forests would be too crowded for new trees or anything else to inhabit. The roots of fallen trees might have been adequate for many decades or centuries, but eventually succumbed to decay and the weight of the canopies they supported and sustained. Trees falling in home gardens are completely different.
Domestic trees (in home gardens) are likely to land on homes, cars, other plants, or anything that happens to be in their way if they fall. Also, they are more likely to have problems with the roots that support them. Regular irrigation needed to sustain other landscape plants promotes rot, and also inhibits deep root dispersion. Excessive irrigation that keeps soil saturated is much worse!
The good news is that, despite their innate disadvantages, domestic trees tend to be shorter, stouter and more stable. With proper maintenance, they seldom fall; or at least they are more likely to get removed before they fall. Buttressed roots that are visible at the surface of the soil might indicate that deeper root dispersion has been inhibited. The best roots are too deep to be seen.
Whether or not buttressed or shallowly dispersed roots limit stability, they can damage pavement, lawns, septic systems, or other features on the surface of the soil. Subterranean utilities and foundations of modern buildings are typically safe, but on rare occasion, can be damaged by the largest sorts of trees. Root barriers divert roots, but those of big trees eventually get around them. Potentially damaging roots can be severed while young, but become more integral to sustaining and supporting as they grow.