The Ultimate Guide to Tree Root Removal: Everything You Need to Know

February 1, 2024

Tree root removal is often the only solution to root issues that crack your plumbing, threaten the foundation of your home, and break all your concrete surfaces around.

Yes, removal of roots without removing or harming the tree is possible, but it’s not always the best option.

Likewise, if you want to remove the stump and the roots after a tree removal for aesthetic reasons, or perhaps because you don’t want a sprout developing and growing back into a tree, removing tree roots is one of the best routes you can take.

In this guide, we’ll talk about everything you need to know: what trees can potentially lead to the same problems, the tools you need to remove tree roots, and when it’s wise to simply call a professional.

Let’s start!

Invasive Tree Root Removal

Mini excavator pulling up on roots and tree stump

While it’s fascinating and thought-provoking how life finds its way in the form of tree roots breaking through concrete, the picture they paint isn’t always pretty. At least not when they attack your home and damage everything in their way. Large tree roots can cause significant damage if they are cut or removed, potentially harming the tree’s stability and health.

When trees become a liability, it’s time to remove them. According to the latest statistics, 28 percent in Canada had trees cut down or removed from their property within the last five years. Whether their reasons are due to invasive root problems or not, it’s certain that trees can indeed sometimes get in the way.

Also, even though there are estimated to be more than three trillion trees on earth and 15.3 billion estimated trees cut down each year, State of the World’s Forests 2020 report confirms Canada’s forested area is still intact.

That’s a lot of trees! So you can imagine that some of those may cause some problems with your home. If you’re ready to face your tree root problems, here are three things that you can do:

  1. Cut the entire tree and remove all the root parts
  2. Cut the roots and install barriers
  3. Call a professional

Let’s talk about tree removal first. The first rule for tree removal involves the size of the tree.

If the tree is fairly small and you can cut it without going up a ladder, then it may be safe to do the job yourself. If you are unsure, always call an arborist who can give you the best professional advice.

Removing a tree can be very dangerous, not only to the untrained person removing it but also to the property. Damages, including bodily injury, may not be worth the money you’ll save from DIYing tree removal.

However, if you’ve determined that the tree is small enough for a DIY project, then here’s how you can go about it.

How To Remove A Tree

Homeowner DIY removing a tree

The day before you plan to remove the tree, water the tree and soil around it. Softer soil makes it easier to dig the roots out later.

Get your tools and safety gear ready. You’ll need:

  • saw or axe
  • shovel or a stump grinder
  • spade
  • helmet or hard hat
  • safety goggles
  • ear plugs if you plan to use a chainsaw
  • gloves
  • protective clothing
  • safety boots
  • and a first aid kit

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Clear the area, making sure you have plenty of escape routes when the tree is ready to fall.
  2. Determine where the tree will likely fall. If it’s leaning on one side, the tree will likely fall on that side. Be prepared for the unexpected. If the tree doesn’t fall where you want it to, calculate your best escape to avoid injuries.
  3. On the side you want the tree to fall, cut a notch angled at 70 to 90 degrees through the trunk at about a quarter of its diameter. Use a saw or an axe to do this.
  4. Make your escape before the tree starts to fall.
  5. If the tree doesn’t fall, give it a push towards where you want it to fall.
  6. Slowly and carefully approach the tree after it has completely fallen.

Now it’s time to remove the stump and the roots. Removing the tree stump is crucial to prevent regrowth and to prepare the ground for future use.

How To Remove Invasive Tree Roots

Pulling tree roots out of the ground

Tree removal and tree root removal is oftentimes a job that requires specialized equipment and trained professionals. If you want to do it yourself, apart from making sure the tree is small enough to handle by a DIYer like yourself, you must also make sure the tree hasn’t caused any structural damage yet.

If you tackle the job on your own without knowing what you’re getting into, you can cause more disruption to the ground than is necessary and you risk more damages to your property.

An experienced arborist will know whether the roots have damaged your foundation or your pipes and if you’re facing more than you can handle.

If there are no structural damages yet, chopping roots and grinding down the stump shouldn’t be a problem.

All you have to do is dig around the root and the stump, either with a shovel or a stump grinder.

  1. Break the soil apart with a shovel and dig 9 to 12 inches in diameter and 6 inches in depth for every inch of the trunk’s diameter.
  2. Then stick the shovel into the ground, under the tree’s root ball. Push the stump back and forth to loosen the roots, until you are able to pull the root ball up and out of the ground.
  3. Pull all the roots out carefully.
  4. Properly dispose of the tree, branches, stump, and roots, and give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve just removed the root of all your problems!

Signs The Tree Roots Have Damaged Your Home’s Foundation

Home's foundation cracking from tree roots absorbing water in the soil

A common misconception about tree roots is that they can crack through the concrete foundation of your home.

Most people hear “tree roots have damaged my foundation” and they immediately picture massive arm-like roots reaching towards a house and busting their way through the foundation.

While tree roots are incredibly strong and this seems almost possible, that’s not what is actually happening.

Trees are incredibly smart and they are always on a hunt for the soil with the best moisture and nutrients. This is their life’s mission.

So when that perfect soil happens to be the soil that surrounds your house’s foundation, tree roots suck up most of the water in that soil, leaving the soil dry and loose. THIS is where foundation cracks begin to happen

So the tree roots themselves do not bust through your home’s foundation, but they disturb the soil, which then creates space for movement that then cracks your foundation.

In other words, tree roots only damage your home’s foundation indirectly and this is backed by research.

The following are some signs that your tree’s roots are sucking up the soil around your foundation:

  • Visible cracks on the floor and grounds
  • Heaving floor surface
  • Big cracks on your foundation’s walls
  • Window cracks

When you start seeing these signs, survey your foundation by digging and checking if the roots extend toward it or if they are starting to grow down. Additionally, check for exposed roots as they can indicate potential damage. If you don’t see anything, the damage may be due to the soil contracting and expanding under your foundation.

Prevent it from ever becoming a tree root issue by watering your trees and other vegetation during drought periods. You can also install root barriers in between the tree and your foundation. Scroll down below for the how-to steps.

If after inspection you’ve confirmed that the cracks might be caused by your tree, it’s time to hire a professional to help.

Signs The Tree Roots Are Growing Under Concrete Grounds

Tree roots causing the driveway to crack

Aside from being unsightly, tree roots peeking through and heaving the concrete grounds of your sidewalks, driveways, walkways, and other concrete surfaces around your home are a source of hazards for people and structures. 

Watch out for the following signs:

  • Long cracks on the concrete
  • Some ground swelling coming from the direction of a tree
  • Concrete heaving

It’s important to deal with tree root issues before they become major problems that will cause your foundation to crack and cost you a lot of expensive repairs. 

Either save the tree by installing root barriers or remove it completely. 

Signs The Tree Roots Have Grown Into Your Pipes

Broken sewage pipe from tree roots growing through it.

A common occurrence we’ve found in Cold Lake, Bonnyville & St. Paul is cracked pipes from tree roots that have made their way through them.

Tree roots are in constant search of water sources and grow towards any kind of moisture, so if your underground pipes are leaking, you can be sure your tree’s roots have already gotten to them. 

Often, tree root problems related to plumbing are your indication that you have leaking pipes, which is why tree roots are growing in them. As roots grow more, they also may crush your pipes and break them in the process.  

Here are some signs that tree roots are growing in your pipes:

  • slow flowing drains
  • clogged drains that don’t clear with flushing treatments
  • growth of vegetation near pipes
  • low water pressure

The Best And Worst Trees To Plant

Flourishing tree in a nicely groomed and shrub back yard

Tree root problems are quite common, especially when you have large species or a type of tree with invasive roots planted. If you’ve got a tree like a silver maple, for example, you could be in for some trouble.

A species such as this one has an extremely invasive root system. Silver maple tree roots grow fast and shallow and they are notorious for cracking sidewalks and driveways, making their way into plumbing and causing home foundation issues.

If you’re considering planting new trees, consider how close to the house and how big the tree is going to be.

Ideally, small trees less than 30 feet should be planted eight to 10 feet away from your house; medium-size trees less than 70 feet should be planted about 15 feet from the house; and big trees of over 70 feet should be planted at least 20 feet from the house.

Also, you should consider how invasive the tree root system is. Choosing the right tree for your lawn will save you a lot of headaches and repair expenses. You also won’t have to worry about roots damaging your home’s foundation or sending your curb appeal down the drain. Knowing how many tree roots can be safely cut is crucial when managing tree root systems.

Below are some of the best and worst trees to plant around your home.

The Worst Trees To Plant Near Your House

Weeping willow tree
  • Silver Maple: Like we mentioned above, silver maple has an invasive tree root system that tends to grow shallow and end up above the ground. 
  • White Ash: This tree also has invasive lateral roots. They can grow big at maturity. They can grow up to a height of 50 to 80 feet with a spread of 40 to 50 feet.
  • Poplar: A poplar tree can grow up to 80 to 150 feet tall and the roots can expand outwards two to three times their height! That means the root system can stretch as far as 160 to 450 feet from the tree. This is the reason why a poplar tree is known for sewer and foundation problems. 
  • Black Locust: Called by Tree Canada as the “tree killer,” Black Locusts have roots that can grow quickly even in poor soils. The tree can grow 39 feet to 98 feet in height and up to 150 cm in diameter.
  • Elm: Elm trees have shallow roots that can disrupt your lawn, sidewalk or driveway. Elm tree roots love moisture, and this is why they often become a source of sewer lines and drain pipes problems. 
  • Weeping Willow: Weeping willows are not suitable to grow in backyards as they can grow as tall as 45 to 70 feet. They also have aggressive shallow roots that can spread up to three times the length of the tree.  
  • Oak: Oak trees have roots that spread up to three to seven times the diameter of the crown. Oak trees are best grown on grounds with no underground pipelines and other utilities. 

The Best Trees To Plant Near Your House

Japanese maple tree planted near a walkway
  • Japanese Maple: This tree is perfect for small yards. They only grow up to two to three metres tall, but they bring colour to any garden with green leaves that turn orange in the fall.
  • Eastern Redbud: Eastern Redbud is a flowering tree that’s great for those with small yards. It only grows up to 20 to 32 feet.
  • Pagoda Dogwood: A small tree that grows to a maximum of 20 feet in height. It has white flowers and black fruit that attracts birds. 

Tree Root Removal Using Chemicals

Tree with roots exposed on surface

A stump with enough nutrients in it can develop sprouts which can grow back to a tree. So sometimes, tree cutting isn’t enough to kill a problematic tree.

If you don’t like the idea of cutting and digging roots, an easier way to kill the tree and its roots is to treat them with chemicals.

Removal Using Glyphosate Herbicide

An herbicide with at least 41% glyphosate will kill the roots. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Using a saw, make fresh cuts across the outer layer of the stump and then saturate it with water.
  2. Mix 50 percent water and 50 percent 41% glyphosate.
  3. Apply the solution to the outer layer using a garden sprayer, making sure it’s drenched completely.

The roots will die about two weeks after the application.

Remove The Roots With Rock or Epsom Salt

For a more natural way of killing the roots, use rock salt or epsom salt. The salt will soak up the moisture in the roots and stump, killing the roots in the process.

Before applying the salt mixture, use a root saw to cut through the roots.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Using a drill, bore several holes into the stump about two to three inches deep.
  2. Fill the holes with a mixture of water and salt.
  3. Dig around the stump and pour the salt mixture on the roots.

Repeat this once a week for a few months until the roots are dead. When the wood starts to look dark and brittle, the roots are dead already—then you can remove them.

Tree Root Removal Without Harming The Tree

You can still save a tree and remove its roots without killing it. You can do it yourself or hand the job over to a professional to make sure the tree will survive after root cutting. Additionally, tree stump removal is crucial in preserving the health of the tree and preventing any future sprouting.

The job itself is simple and can be done by anyone, though bad pruning can result in death. Here are other important things to remember when cutting tree roots:

  • Don’t cut too close to the trunk. The closer the cut is to the tree trunk, the higher the chances of damage and death. The rule of thumb is to cut away from the trunk about 5 times the diameter of the tree for mature trees, and 3 times the diameter for young trees.
  • Tree roots more than two inches wide shouldn’t be cut. Removing large roots may shift the tree and make it unstable. Also, the tree may not get enough nutrients from the remaining roots.
  • Don’t cut roots of a flowering tree in springtime. When buds are opening, your tree needs more nutrients. The best time to prune tree roots is late winter.
  • Don’t remove more than 25% of your tree’s roots. Without enough root support, your tree will die.
  • Allow two to three years of recovery. After trimming the roots, allow the tree to recover and don’t prune the roots again until after it has fully recovered and you can be sure that trimming did not affect your tree’s health.

When you’re ready, here are the steps to root pruning:

  1. Measure the diameter of your tree at about 4 feet from the base.
  2. Determine from what point you can safely cut the roots (diameter x 5 for mature trees, diameter x 3 for young trees).
  3. Mark your cuts.
  4. Dig around the area of the root where the cut will be. Remove soil on the sides and underneath the roots. Clear enough space for a saw to cut through.
  5. Cut the root. Pull the pruned part away and cover the space with soil from the same area.

If tree root pruning doesn’t appeal to you, you can also opt to install root barriers to prevent further growth towards unwanted areas.

How To Install Root Barriers

Root barrier being installed while trees are being planted

Installing root barriers is best done before planting. However, root barriers installed after the tree is planted can still effectively stop root growth in the direction you don’t want it to go.

Additionally, removing tree stumps is crucial to prevent future root growth and potential damage.

What Is A Root Barrier?

A root barrier stops the growth of the root through the use of a physical (metal flashing, plastic sheeting or concrete panel) or chemical (biobarrier) obstruction installed 30 to 60 inches downwards from the ground. 

Biobarrier is a geotextile fabric containing chemical herbicide trifluralin. This inhibits root tip cells from dividing and growing while allowing air, water, and other nutrients through it. A physical barrier, quite simply, physically prevents the roots from growing towards a particular area. 

There are two types of root barrier system:

  • Linear barrier
  • Surrounding root barrier

Linear barriers obstruct the roots on one side of the tree only, like when it’s growing towards your house, underground utilities, the sidewalk or towards other concrete structures. 

Surrounding root barrier, as you likely guessed, surrounds the tree on all sides.

Here are the basics for installing root barriers:

  1. Measure the length of the structure you want to protect.
  2. Dig a trench 3-4 inches wide and at least 30 inches deep. 
  3. Place the barrier against the trench wall, leaving 1-2 inches above the ground for settlement.
  4. Put the dirt back in the trench, making sure to pack it tightly around the barrier.

Get A Tree Root Removal Professional

Stump grinding machine in action

While it’s true that you can tackle some tree root problems yourself, hiring a professional arborist company takes the guesswork out of the process and can save you a lot of headaches. 

A good arborist will come to the job site, assess the issue properly and decide on the best course of action for the tree root removal.

Hiring a professional means that they come with the proper equipment, skills, training and team to handle the problem, prevent further damage and solve all your tree root issues.

Average Cost of Tree Removal in Alberta

How much a tree removal would cost depends on your location and other factors. Some things to consider are the size of the tree and potential hazards around. 

In Bonnyville, Alberta, Cold Lake Alberta, St. Paul, Alberta or Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, the average cost for removing a tree is around $245. Check out this post for more information on tree removal fees. 

What To Expect From A Professional Tree Root Removal

Depending on the severity of the damage caused by roots, many places will not actually remove them out of the ground. Sometimes pulling them out completely will only contribute to the damage they have caused, but it can be done. 

If the tree is still standing, the tree will be cut down completely (starting at the very top). During this process you want to ensure you have the right company with the right equipment. You don’t want someone sending massive branches falling to the ground creating the real possibility of damaging things around the space. Instead, you want an arborist that has the equipment to tie the branches and lower them to the ground. 

They will continue to “dismantle” the tree branch by branch until nothing but the stump is left. Using a stump grinder, they will grind down the stump until it’s flush (or deeper) than ground level. 

Most times, the roots themselves are not actually pulled up from the ground. But by grinding the stump right down, the roots will have no way of continuing to grow and this typically ends your tree root problems.

Get To The Root Of The Problem

Exposed tree roots being cut by chainsaw

Trees are not always the root of the problem, but when tree roots begin to grow too large for the area, begin to grow towards pipes or even find their way to your foundation, they can present a problem. 

Often, the only option is tree root removal. You can remove the roots yourself if the tree is small enough or you can hire a professional to do it. Whatever you do, remember that ignoring those roots will not solve the problem and will only cost you more expenses and headaches. 

You can also always just call Pevach Corp. They have the skills, training, and equipment to rid you of all tree root problems so you never have to worry about tree roots again.

Call Pevach Corp in Northern Alberta

Tree stump removed by stump grinding

Pevach Corp is an arborist company with all the proper skills, training and equipment needed for successful tree root removal. The cost typically runs around $195 per hour and depending on size, the job can take roughly 2-3 hours. 

Pevach will not only get the job done right, but will also allow the client to choose what they want to do with the leftover wood and mulch. If you’d like a pile of mulch for the garden, logs for firewood or you just want it all hauled away, they’ll have you taken care of. 

Don’t let those pesky tree roots cause any more damage and call Pevach Corp today. The cost of tree root removal will be significantly cheaper than fixing your foundation or replacing underground pipes. 

If you’ve got roots that just need to be trimmed and you want to keep the tree, ask the crew at Pevach about that too!