What is Root Pressure?

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In urban settings, where greenery and urban infrastructure intersect, root pressure is a common issue. This natural phenomenon can cause significant damage to surrounding infrastructure, both above and below ground. What exactly is root pressure? And more importantly, is it possible to prevent or counteract root pressure?

Definition of Root Pressure

Root pressure is the process by which the roots of trees and large shrubs expand underground and exert pressure on paving. Simply put: the roots become so strong that they push up the paving and cause damage. This can range from sidewalks, bike paths, and roads to the foundations of buildings. When the roots become large and strong enough, this leads to cracks and subsidence.

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What Causes Root Pressure?

The primary cause of root pressure is the natural growth of tree roots. According to the study “Root damage of street trees in urban environments: An overview of its hazards, causes, and prevention and control measures” (2023), the tree species is considered the main cause of root damage. Studies have shown that, although not all trees cause root damage, the speed and extent of root damage vary by tree species. Through preventive risk identification, trees that could potentially cause root damage can be treated early to prevent damage to both aboveground facilities and underground pipelines.

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Trees need an extensive root system to survive, meaning their roots can spread far and wide. A tree is an “opportunist” and takes every opportunity to extract moisture and nutrients from the soil. In urban areas, where space is limited and the ground is often covered with concrete and asphalt, roots come into conflict with infrastructure. The quest for water and nutrients leads to roots making their way under and through urban infrastructure, causing root pressure.

The Consequences of Root Pressure

Root pressure not only leads to an unattractive public space but can also have structural consequences for the integrity of buildings and even traffic safety. Cyclists, skateboarders, rollerbladers, walkers, or motorcyclists who do not see root pressure in time can trip or even cause accidents. When tree roots affect the integrity of roads and buildings or cause underground damage to cables and pipelines, this leads to costly repairs and even safety risks.

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Management and Prevention of Root Pressure

Managing root pressure requires careful planning and design. It is important to know how aggressive the root system of the tree species is before planting. For example, poplars, willows, and Metasequoias are known for their aggressive root systems. In addition, physical barriers can be applied to direct the growth direction of the roots and prevent them from causing damage. Root guidance and root barriers are known and effective methods to prevent or counteract root pressure.

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Countering Root Pressure

When root pressure has already occurred, it is not too late, and solutions are still possible to counteract it. However, these solutions are highly dependent on the specific situation and the tree species involved. Therefore, each approach to counteracting root pressure requires customisation. It is important to carefully analyze the possibilities beforehand so that the most suitable solution can be chosen to preserve and protect both the tree and the environment.

Consultation about Root Pressure

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