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Are Deciduous Tree Roots Different From Coniferous Tree Roots?

Deciduous trees are a common site of the Oregon landscape. Popular broadleaves such as Douglas maple, Pacific dogwood, and Oregon ash are all examples of deciduous trees.  Oregon is also well-known for its towering forests of conifers.

While there are obvious differences between these two types of trees in the leaves and structures of the trees, have you ever wondered if deciduous tree roots are different from their coniferous counterparts? Does that play any role in helping you decide which one you should plant in your yard? Even though the role and function of roots belonging to different trees are the same, not all roots are created equal. Here’s what our expert arborists at Mr. Tree have to say.

Expansive large tree with sprawling roots and branches

Deciduous Tree Roots

Most deciduous trees start with the main taproot, which gradually develops into a very deep lateral root system. These lateral roots can penetrate the soil up to 4 feet deep and extend laterally up to 90 feet. It is the lateral roots that support the structure of the tree. The large lateral roots also develop into fine root systems that form a dense root mass under the soil’s surface. These roots play a crucial role in absorbing nutrients and moisture from the soil.

On attaining full maturity, a deciduous tree develops extensive horizontal root systems. Such roots are usually not anchored under a hard surface. So it’s important to ensure the roots have enough space to branch out so that they don’t come in contact with the foundation of your house. It’s important to leave adequate space if you are planting them near patios, driveways, sidewalks, or parking lots.

Trees such as Douglas maple have a spreading root system with a combination of deep and lateral woody roots. As the name suggests, deep roots go deeper into the soil to absorb water and minerals. You’ll not only need to make sure to give your tree space from your home and pavement, but you should be aware of utilities buried where you intend to plant.

Coniferous Tree Roots

Most conifers have fine roots and coarse roots. The fine roots are usually located in the upper layers of the soil and are more prevalent during the initial year of the tree’s development. These roots are fine and tender. They are later replaced by coarse roots that grow deeper in the soil. Coarse roots have a thick central root known as the primary root, leading to smaller, lateral roots known as the secondary roots. Larger conifers often have larger roots right at the ground level, making them more difficult to mow around.

The primary root can extend as deeply as a tap root and even continue growing downward until lower oxygen levels prevent further growth. If the soil is extremely moist, such roots may stop growing and resume their growth only when there is enough space to allow the penetration of oxygen. Conifers planted in loose sandy soil usually experience deeper root growth than clay soils, as the larger sand particles provide more space and make way for holding more oxygen. On the other hand, smaller clay particles in clay soils are held more compactly, resulting in less oxygen. Usually, most conifer roots go down to about three feet but can go even deeper when planted in dry sandy soils.

Why Are Roots Such an Important Part of a Tree’s Anatomy

Regardless of the type of the species, all tree roots perform four critical functions.

1.      Absorption: The tips of the root absorb water and minerals from the soil.

2.      Transportation: The roots transport water and mineral to the different parts of the tree to provide nutrition and aid in photosynthesis.

3.      Storage: The roots also store carbohydrates that are utilized by the tree when it’s not actively growing or doesn’t receive enough sunlight to produce carbohydrates through photosynthesis.

4.      Anchorage: A well-developed root system also holds the tree upright and provides it support against wind and storms.

Once planted, seedlings give birth to taproots. The primary role of taproots is to descend through the soil layers to look for water and provide initial support to the tree. With time, these tap roots mature into lateral roots that perform more critical functions, such as absorbing necessary minerals from the soil, breaking down the organic matter to provide fodder for the tree.

Roots are just as important to trees as the other parts. Proper care and maintenance of the roots, whether you have deciduous tree roots or coniferous tree roots, can go a long way in ensuring excellent health and growth over the years. Take the time to pay particular attention to the roots. They can be highly vulnerable to harsh weather conditions. Abrupt or chronic heat stress can damage the roots and adversely impact the absorption of water and nutrients, resulting in the overall poor health of your tree.

Know When It’s Time for the Tree to Go

It’s essential to get rid of damaged deciduous trees when you notice the tree is dying, as such roots can hinder the growth of the other trees in the vicinity. If you’re not sure if your tree has reached that point, an arborist can help you determine the best course of action. The experts at Mr. Tree can inspect and care for your trees, whether you need tree removal, pruning, stump grinding, or just advice about the best trees you can plant in your yard. We can help you determine which coniferous and deciduous trees to plant based on the space available and the soil conditions in your yard. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist in Portland, Oregon, and help you build the yard of your dreams.