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Tips and Tricks

Tips and Tricks

Root Rot in Trees: Frequently Asked Questions

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If the once healthy trees in your backyard suddenly appear unhealthy, this might make you suspect your tree has severely decayed or is dying. If you've checked the tree for signs of insect infestation, damage animals have caused, or other obvious signs of disease or physical harm, the problem might not be visible above ground.

Here are a few frequently asked questions you might have about tree root rot.

What Exactly Is Root Rot?

As the name would suggest, root rot refers to the decay of a plant's root system. The condition occurs in both indoor and outdoor plants, shrubs, and trees. If you discover the source of the root rot early and the root system doesn't have severe damage, saving your tree is possible. Unfortunately, because the root is under the ground, diagnosing this issue in time to save the tree is often difficult.

What Causes Root Rot in Trees?

Trees will develop root rot for two main reasons: poor drainage that results in oversaturated soil, as well as fungal infections.

When the soil has too much moisture, the roots become too saturated and cannot pull oxygen from the ground. Compacted soil doesn't allow water to drain away from the root system, which traps moisture around the roots. 

Fungal spores are naturally present in soil, but a lack of moisture and nutrients keeps them dormant. When the conditions are ideal, including compacted soil or overwatered trees, the dormant fungal spores begin reproducing. The roots provide another source of nutrients, and the fungus will begin to spread rapidly.

Rhizoctonia, Pythium, Phytophthora, and Armillaria are a few common fungal infections that can cause root rot.

What Are the Symptoms of Root Rot?

Trees suffering from root rot cannot properly absorb the nutrients and minerals they require to thrive from the ground. This is the same reason trees will wilt and suffer serious damage or death during droughts. Here are a few symptoms of root rot to watch for:

  • Poor growth

  • Wilted or brown leaves

  • Smaller than normal leaves

  • Weak and decaying branches

  • Thinner canopy

Severe fungal growth can spread from the roots to the trunk and branches. Root rot can cause cankers, darker sap, and dark bands or lines.

How Do You Diagnose Root Rot?

If you suspect one or many of your trees suffers from root rot, contact a professional to make the diagnosis. The root system of larger trees is expansive, and to diagnose root rot, a tree specialist must dig underground and locate sections of the affected roots.

Diagnosing root rot in smaller, younger trees is also tricky, especially if you're not sure what to look for, and a professional should be contacted in these instances as well.

Is Root Rot Curable?

Curing root rot in plants and trees is possible, especially if the foliage is in the early stages of root rot or if the decay isn't widespread. Unfortunately, because digging up larger trees to access the roots that are decayed or dead is impossible, curing root rot in established trees is very difficult. Digging up younger trees with shallow and smaller root systems is possible.

Begin by carefully digging around the younger tree, making sure to remove as much of the intact root system as possible. Rinse off the root ball with your garden hose, and carefully cut away the affected sections. Treating the tree roots with fungicide can help prevent root rot from forming in the future.

Replant the smaller tree in an area where the soil is loose and not overly saturated. A tree service can help you find an ideal spot for your tree to help ensure your tree thrives.

Leave treating a fungal infection to the professionals as well. Utilizing the wrong type of fungicide can cause even more damage to your already vulnerable tree. A tree care specialist will analyze and diagnose the type of fungus on your property. The specialist will apply a targeted fungicide to the affected trees according to the fungicide's manufacturer and your arborist's recommendations. 

If the tree is larger and the root rot is caught early, a tree specialist can attempt to prevent further decay by amending the soil. Unfortunately, if the root rot has damaged too much of the root system in a larger, established tree, your arborist might recommend removing the tree and root system to prevent the root rot from spreading.

How Can I Prevent Root Rot?

Plant your trees in properly cultivated and amended soil. Avoid overwatering newly planted trees. Creating a moat around trees can help prevent water from pooling around the trunks. Your arborist can help you choose heartier, disease-resistant trees that will thrive in your backyard's soil conditions.

Root rot is a serious problem that you can prevent. If you have additional questions, contact the professionals at Pete & Ron's Tree Service, Inc.

Kimberly Woebse