How much tree root can i cut

Removing Tree Roots Above Ground: Will It Kill the Tree? | Davey Blog

Roots stretch far and wide to give our trees a stable foundation. But what happens if they grow a little further than we’d like?

One of our readers, Paul, recently asked, “How can I get rid of the roots from my tree that have grown into my front yard and are killing the grass?”

Dealing with roots can be tricky—an improper cut could affect the tree’s water flow or cause it to fall in a storm. That’s why it’s important to take a safe approach. Often, enough roots cannot be removed to make a yard level again. In some cases, porous material, like a combination of sand and compost, can be topdressed to level the area so it can be seeded with grass and maintained without having to cut roots. 

Read on to learn if you can prune above-ground tree roots, how many tree roots you can cut at once and how to safely prune tree roots at the best time.  

Cutting Tree Roots Above Ground – Everything You Need To Know

If I Cut A Root, Will The Tree Die?

It all depends on the size and location of the tree root.

As a guideline, avoid pruning roots more than 2 inches wide. Removing large tree roots can make the tree unstable or unhealthy later on. If large roots are removed, the tree may not be able to get enough nutrients and water. Also, don’t remove roots close or fused to the trunk since these are critical to the tree’s structure.

What’s the best time of year to cut tree roots?

If you choose to cut or remove tree roots, winter and early spring are the best time of year to do so.

How Many Tree Roots Can I Cut?

Never remove more than 15 percent of above-ground tree roots at once. Then, wait two to three years to make sure your tree fully recovers. Only then can you safely consider cutting more tree roots.

How Can I Cut Tree Roots Without Killing The Tree?

Again, if you cut tree roots, there is never a guarantee that it won’t hurt or eventually kill the tree. We only recommend removing tree roots when they are damaging or infringing on a nearby structure – not for aesthetic reasons.

For the best chance of your tree surviving, consult with your local arborist before removing tree roots. Or see if your arborist can prune the roots for you.

For DIY Root Cutting, Use This Step-By-Step Guide.

  1. Find the root posing an issue and measure its diameter. If it is less than 2", it is okay to cut as long as the total root loss will not add up to more than 15% of the surface roots. 
  2. Measure the diameter of your tree. Wrap a measuring tape around the tree, four feet from the tree’s base. Then, divide that number by 3.14. Generally, you can safely prune roots that are 5 times the diameter away from your tree. So, if your tree has a diameter of 3 feet, only cut tree roots 15 feet away from the tree.
  3. Mark the area you’ll cut, and dig a hole all the way around the root until it is completely exposed.
  4. Use a pruning saw to cut the root cleanly. Carefully pull the cut root up and away from the tree until it comes out. Be sure to refill the hole with soil from the same area afterward.
  5. Keep an eye on your tree for a few weeks after pruning. Signs of decline like yellow leaves or branch death call for an arborist’s immediate attention.

Contact Your Arborist To Safely Remove Those Tree Roots!



  • Roots
  • Exposed Roots
  • Root Damage
  • Root Protection

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Home > Root growth > Root pruning trees > Root pruning guidelines

Trenching and digging in the soil near trees can cut roots, and this can damage the tree resulting in tree decline or the tree falling over (See: fallen tree from cutting roots). This can cause liability and safety concerns. Root pruning is more injurious to old mature trees than it is for younger more vigorous trees. Cutting roots greater than about one inch diameter during trenching and digging can mean problems for the tree. In some cases roots of one to three inches diameter represent the major structural roots holding the tree upright.

The impact from pruning roots depends on several factors (see table below). Damage typically increases with more cuts, bigger cuts, and cuts made closer to the trunk. Root pruning, trenching, and other construction activities close to the trunk result in more injury on shallow, compacted soils or on soils that drain poorly than on well drained soils. This is due to the shallow roots common on sites with shallow soils or high water table. Trees that are leaning are poor candidates for root pruning. Prune roots only with sharp tools to avoid tearing behind the cuts.

See: more details on cutting roots.

Factors affecting response of trees to root pruning

  • root size: larger roots may generate few new roots
  • number of cut roots: more roots cut means more tree stress
  • proximity of cuts to the trunk: the closer cuts are to the trunk the bigger the impact
  • species: some species tolerate it better than others
  • tree age: old trees are more likely to stress and die
  • tree condition: trees in poor health should not be root pruned
  • tree lean: leaning trees should not be root pruned
  • soil type and site drainage: shallow soils mean stay farther from the trunk

How close to the trunk can roots be cut?

Well, the answer appears to depend on who you ask. For mature trees, some experts recommend not cutting roots closer than 6 to 8 inches from the trunk for each inch in trunk diameter. That means stay at least 10 feet away from a 20 inch tree! Others are more realistic and state that we should root prune no closer to the trunk than a distance equal to 3 times the trunk diameter, preferably 5 times the trunk diameter. Dr. Tom Smiley at the Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory in Charlotte showed that roots on one side of very young trees can be pruned off completely at a distance equal to 5 times the trunk diameter without any impact on tree stability. Which ever rule-of-thumb you decide to use, do so knowing that pruning roots on trees can result in trees falling over or dying. While root pruned large trees on well drained soil may not fall over because of deeper sinker roots under the trunk, they can and have. There are fewer deep roots holding the tree up on poorly drained and compacted soils.

Alternatives to root pruning

  • add soil over the roots and re-sod
  • curve the sidewalk around the surface roots
  • elevate the walk over the roots
  • suspend the footing on pilings
  • re-pour the walk with steel in the concrete
  • grind the concrete down
  • raise the walk by injecting grout under it
  • build the structure elsewhere
  • dig under roots with trench-less technology
  • live with the problem
  • See: more details on alternatives to root pruning

Tree trimming: features, requirements and norms

Prices for tree trimming


  1. What is trimming
  2. Cut or not: how decisions are made
  3. Legal component when pruning trees
  4. Why you should trust tree pruning to professionals

No one disputes the necessity of trimming trees. The topic is equally relevant for fruit trees in individual farms and decorative green spaces in the city. If in the first case pruning is a matter of improving yields, then in the second case it is a matter of the beauty of city streets, people's safety, transport and energy communications. How to competently crown trees and shrubs, who should do this and in what time frame, what norms and legislative restrictions exist in this regard - we will consider further.

What is crowning

Crowning is not just pruning by sight, but a whole science. Each type of work has its purpose:

  • Sanitary pruning. This is a necessary procedure for cleaning a tree from diseased and damaged branches and branches. Helps to improve the crown, improves the passage of light and air.
  • Proactive booking is one of the security measures. Reduces the risk of a tree falling on people, buildings and vehicles. It consists in removing dry and weak branches, as well as overgrowth that touches the roofs of houses, power lines, etc. During the work, specialists comply with the norms for tree trimming and pruning, approved by legislative acts.
  • Crown formation. It is held annually to give green spaces a well-groomed appearance.
  • The maximum allowable pruning is done if a large tree needs to be replanted. This is necessary for better root survival and less energy consumption of the plant on the upper part.
  • Deep anti-aging pruning, or topping, is the removal of most of the crown to rejuvenate the tree. As a result, young shoots grow, forming a new crown.

Cut or not: how decisions are made

The approach to this work (as well as to any work) must be extremely professional. In urban farms, ignorant cutting of all trees “one size fits all” is often practiced, when a specialist cannot distinguish rejuvenating pruning from crown formation. That is why you have to hear the indignant voices of the townspeople. From what position should decisions be made?

In addition to aesthetic needs, the following points should be decisive:

  • Danger of falling trees in strong winds.
  • Contact of branches with power lines or other communications.
  • Threat of breaking off branches under the weight of snow or due to old age.
  • Low overhang of trees over a roadway or pavement that interferes with traffic.
  • Strong shading of the windows of nearby houses.

Finally, you need to know that the legislation of the Russian Federation allows cutting trees only with the permission of the city administration. Priority in the performance of work is given to firms and companies specializing in these types of work. If we are talking about cutting down or pruning trees in the local area, then an application for kronirovanie is written first to the house management. And the permit is issued already in the administration, in the department of nature management. The conditions stipulate that the contractor is obliged to clean up the area and remove the wood upon completion of the work.

Legal component when pruning trees

As mentioned above, any work with green spaces should be carried out by specialists and only in accordance with the law. Neither individuals nor organizations have the right to arbitrarily cut down and even cut trees, for this they can be awarded a large fine (the amount varies depending on the region) and even criminal punishment. For information, the normative act that the city authorities and contractors should be guided by when performing any work with green spaces is the Order of the Gosstroy of the Russian Federation No. 153 (issued in 1999, relevant today) "On approval of the rules for the creation, protection and maintenance of green spaces in the cities of the Russian Federation." Clause 3.1.4. This applies specifically to trimming tree crowns and cutting shrubs.

In addition, the Federal Law No. 7 of January 10, 2002 (as amended in 2017) “On Environmental Protection” is fundamental. Article 61 of this Law regulates the protection of the green fund of cities and rural settlements of the Russian Federation.

Why you should leave tree pruning to the professionals

Many people think that pruning trees is not difficult. And this is a whole science. A specialist, or arborist, has technical skills. He is adapted to climbing work, knows how to handle not only garden tools, but also a chainsaw, which in the hands of an inexperienced person can carry a great risk to human health and life. Professional arborists have climbing equipment available that prevents falls.

In addition to your own safety, there are some subtleties in the tree trimming procedure itself. Permission for this type of work prescribes to observe the deadlines when you can cut the branches - they depend on the characteristics of a particular tree. So, oaks, pines, birches can be cut only in autumn, and no more than 1-2 skeletal branches can be removed. These trees react painfully to pruning, unlike maple, elm, elm or poplar. Garden trees are pruned in early spring, before sap flow begins.

For example, large skeletal branches must be cut in two steps. The saw cut should be perpendicular to the ground or at an acute angle so that water does not accumulate on the cut and the tree does not rot. The saw cut must be treated with garden pitch or oil paint.

Both the barbaric pruning of green spaces and bringing them to a neglected state are equally unacceptable. Overgrown branches of trees and shrubs not only spoil the view of urban and rural streets, but also interfere with the movement of people and vehicles, making it difficult for light to penetrate houses. And most importantly, they can be a source of increased danger. Strongly overgrown branches can touch electrical wires, trolleybus and tram lines under voltage. Large branches and whole trunks often fall under the pressure of wind and snow, carrying a huge risk to people and vehicles.

However, it is unacceptable to arbitrarily cut down trees or trim them without permission and permission. This should only be done by professionals. Trust them with your safety and the aesthetics of city streets.

what needs to be done to revive fruit trees

Apple and pear trees

These fruit trees are pruned in the same way.

The first step is to shorten the trunk to a height of 2 m, you can even make it smaller - this way it is more convenient to pick the fruit. It is necessary to saw off just above the upper skeletal branch, literally by 1 - 2 cm. If you leave a stump, it will soon rot, a hollow will form at the crown, and the tree will die.

Then you need to cut out all the shoots growing inside the crown - they thicken the tree, air and moisture stagnate inside, and as a result, pests settle there and fungal diseases actively multiply.

A tree trimmed according to the rules must have the shape of a bowl - the inside is empty, all branches are located outside.

The final touch is the pruning of the lateral skeletal branches. Their length should be approximately 1 - 1.5 m (1). And you need to cut them to the outer branch, which "looks" outward.

Cardinal rejuvenating pruning should not be carried out in one fell swoop, but extended over 2-3 years (2).


It is very difficult to trim cherries, only a specialist can do it, because there are many nuances in this matter. For example, pruning bush and tree cherries differ significantly. And a little something is wrong - the cherry can die. So it's better not to risk it.

But what must be done is to cut out all the growth. It greatly weakens the cherry, and the yield drops sharply. However, not all offspring need to be removed - 2 - 4, which appeared at a distance of 1 - 1.5 m, can be left if you want to have more cherries of this variety in the garden (3).


This tree does not like cardinal pruning, so you can not wait until the sweet cherry turns into a deep old woman - it must be formed annually, in 2 stages: which grow inside the crown, located at an acute angle to the trunk and skeletal branches, dry and broken;

  • at the end of June, all shoots of the current year are shortened by 1/5 so that they do not grow more upwards, but throw all their strength into ripening - then the tree will winter better.
  • Photo:


    Plum, like cherries, is prone to gum disease, so trees should be cut not in one fell swoop, but in two stages. At the end of winter - the beginning of spring, all dry, weak shoots and branches that extend from the trunk at an acute angle must be completely removed from the old tree. At the end of July, you can cut off the top, shorten by a third the fast-growing and thickening crown shoots.

    Japanese quince

    Damaged and thickening shoots are pruned from this shrub, as well as everything older than 5 years, since the crop is mainly produced by 3-year-old branches. Properly formed bushes should have about 15 branches of various ages.

    Many varieties of Chaenomeles grow well. But if voids form in the crown, then where there are few branches, they are shortened to the 5th leaf (from the base of the branch). All new shoots are left until next spring, and even then they are cut into 2-3 buds. Such a double pruning will allow you to form a uniform dense crown.

    By the way, adult Japanese quince plants tolerate shearing well and, if desired, they can be given any shape.


    Aronia bears well until the plant is 8 years old. And then the yield drops sharply. Therefore, everything that is older than this age must be ruthlessly cut out.

    If pruned annually, no more than 2-3 old branches will have to be removed in the spring. If the bush is running, it is necessary to make a cardinal pruning - cut off all the shoots indiscriminately, leaving small stumps. Very soon, a lot of new shoots will grow from the roots. Of these, you need to choose 2 - 3 of the strongest, and delete the rest. And in a year or two, the bush will be in perfect physical shape, which means it will please with a harvest.

    Chokeberry. Photo:


    The main problem of this shrub is that it branches very strongly, gives a lot of tops in the crown and shoots from the base of the bush. And the plant itself is very light-loving. And over time, all the branches that are in the shade of their neighbors simply dry up. Therefore, the main task of cropping is to remove all unnecessary.

    Dry branches first. Then all the weak ones - they still will not give a good harvest. Further, all that go from the base of the bush. An exception is made only if the bush needs to be rejuvenated. Then a few "earthen" shoots are left as substitutes. All perennial branches must be cut, and last year's growths should be left.

    If you have inherited a very old bush, which does not really give any growth, then it is better to cut it off, as they say, at the root. And from a strong young growth to form a new one.

    Popular questions and answers

    We talked about pruning fruit trees with agronomist-breeder Svetlana Mikhailova.

    At what time of the year can fruit trees be pruned?

    Practical in any, but there are nuances. For example, in winter, pruning can be carried out at temperatures above -5 ° C. At lower temperatures, cuts and cuts do not heal. You can not prune during sap flow - this is literally 2 weeks in April.

    It is most convenient to prune trees in autumn, after leaf fall - at this time all the shoots are clearly visible.

    How to prune old fruit trees?

    Large branches and central trunk - with a saw. Manual is better, because in old, neglected trees, the shoots are often located close to each other and intertwined with each other. Yes, a chainsaw is easier and faster, but it can severely injure closely spaced branches. And thin shoots that thicken the crown are more convenient to cut with a sector.

    How to cover cuts and saw cuts after pruning fruit trees?

    Large saw cuts, more than 2 cm in diameter - with oil paint based on natural drying oil. Slices of twigs - children's plasticine.

    Special garden vars, as shown by one study, in the vast majority do not have the claimed property - to accelerate the healing of the wound. And some even inhibit scarring.


    1. Kamshilov A. and a group of authors. Gardener's Handbook // M .: State Publishing House of Agricultural Literature, 1955 - 606 p.
    2. Kudryavets R.P.

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