What Happens to the Roots After a Tree is Cut Down?

A tree removal doesn’t actually mean that the entire tree is removed. Depending on what you choose, you will be left with a tree stump or shavings from tree stump grinding…and tree roots. Lots of roots. 

So what happens to those tree roots after a tree is removed?

In this article, we’ll explain what may happen to roots after a tree removal, your options, and more. 

Dead tree roots removed from the ground and photographed against a white background.

Tree Roots are Vital for a Living Tree

Though tree roots are mostly underground, the importance of a tree’s roots cannot be overstated. Not only do roots bring water, nutrients, and oxygen to the rest of the tree, but the roots also act as an anchor, keeping the tree steady through high winds and rough weather. 

While you may picture roots as a copy of the tree aboveground, trailing deep into the earth, the truth is that most roots only reach about a foot or so below ground, spreading out more like a frisbee and growing much wider than the tree itself. 

Knowing the importance of roots and the structure in which they grow can be helpful to know even after a tree is removed.

Are tree roots to blame for damaged sidewalks, foundations, and plumbing? 

Tree Roots May Continue To Grow

For a while after a tree is removed, the tree roots may continue to grow before the lack of photosynthesis from leaves leads to tree root death. 

If the tree is a species that reproduces through root sprouts, the roots may survive longer, up to seven years or more.  

Elm seedling sprouting from tree roots on a Massachusetts property.

Tree Roots May Sprout New Growth

Some tree species can resprout from the roots. If you decide to keep the tree stump, the stump may also produce new growth in the future.  

If the sprout produces enough leaves, it can eventually grow into a full tree. Many trees have this regrowth option to help tree species regrow after forest fires.

Trees that typically sprout from roots or stumps include:

  • Elms
  • Ficus
  • Willows
  • Trees of Heaven
  • Olive Trees
  • Cottonwoods
  • Other fast-growing trees

If a tree species is considered invasive or is known for its invasive roots, it is more likely to resprout from its roots. Slow-growing trees are less likely to resprout. 

Tree Roots May Decompose

Tree roots are a natural material that will decompose over time. However, depending on the size and health of the tree and the remaining roots, it may take a long time. Some roots take decades before they fully disintegrate and add nutrients back into the soil. 

While it’s hard to determine how long roots will last in the ground, roots from hardwood trees take longer to decompose that those from softwood trees. 

This is important to note if you plan on planting anything where tree roots currently are in the ground.

What to Do With Roots After a Tree Removal

You have several options on what to do with tree roots that remain in the ground after a tree is removed. 

Leave the Roots Alone

Though it may take years, tree roots eventually decompose and add organic material to the soil. This increases the nutrients available for other nearby plants and trees. 

If tripping hazards are a concern, cover the roots with wood mulch.

Seedlings sprouting from a tree stump on a Massachusetts property.

Cut the Sprouts

If sprouting is a concern, cut off the sprouts as they grow. You can cut them with pruners or run over them with a lawnmower (just be sure you won’t damage your lawnmower by doing this, or it could be an expensive experiment!). 

Some roots may sprout for up to seven years before they expend all their stored energy, so this can be an ongoing process. 

If you wanted to replace your removed tree anyway, you can let any of the sprouts grow into a full tree. 

Remove the Roots

In some cases, you may need to remove tree roots. Maybe there is new construction going in where the tree once stood, the roots were damaged from a pest and you want to make sure the pest doesn’t return, or maybe the roots are a big tripping hazard. 

If you choose to have tree roots removed, it can be an expensive job, so be prepared.

Note: You should never remove roots from a still-standing tree, as it can cause tree distress and may even cause the tree to fall. Remember, tree roots help a tree remain standing!

Kill the Tree Roots

Some property owners try to kill tree roots with herbicide, though this is not a method we recommend, because:

  • Most herbicides can kill other nearby woody plants or trees.
  • Herbicides can have negative effects on the health of people or pets on the property and are extremely hazardous.
  • Multiple applications of herbicide are necessary.
  • Many municipalities have laws and ordinances against the use of herbicides or restricting their use.
  • They aren’t good for our local ecosystem and can harm wildlife, water sources, and more.
  • Roots killed by herbicide still need to be dug up.
  • You may not be able to grow anything else in the same spot where the herbicide was used. 

Since the process of applying herbicides and waiting for them to work can take a long time, we recommend that you let the roots decay naturally. It’s safer, less expensive, and the decaying roots become a free source of organic material for your soil!

An American Climbers team member uses a stump grinder to grind out a stump on a Massachusetts property.

Schedule Stump Grinding for Your Next Tree Removal

Many issues with roots can be avoided by having the tree stump ground when you have a tree professionally removed. 

American Climbers offers stump grinding services that will remove your tree stump and prevent regrowth from the stump. When you schedule your tree removal, request an estimate for stump grinding as well!

Why Grind Out Your Tree Stumps?

What You Need to Know About Stump Removal 

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