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10 Ways to Deal with Tree Roots in Pipes

We don’t usually think about what’s underground. Homeowners put emphasis on maintaining what is visible to the naked eye – outdoor furniture, sprinklers, walls, roof, and so on.

However, some of the important systems servicing your home are located below the ground. From electricity cables to sewer lines, they are hidden beneath our feet and making our lives comfortable.

In this article we will be looking at ways to deal with tree roots in pipes. Some methods are useful to stop the invasion of roots. Others can also prevent this from happening in the first place.

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Ways to Deal with Tree Roots in Pipes

Soil in your yard is not an inert medium. Various life forms live and thrive underground, and some of them can interfere with your yard pipes. 

One of the first things new homeowners do when moving to a new home is planting trees. Trees come with amazing benefits, such as filtering air, providing shade, and increasing property value. 

But, depending on the species, they can also grow large and invasive roots. This is why you need to choose carefully the types of trees you plant in your yard. Some species can cause problems both beneath and above the ground.

Sometimes you may not know for sure where pipes in your yard are located. In time, tree roots can expand to places you wouldn’t expect and problems can appear. 

For instance, roots can break a sewage pipe and after a while you start seeing puddles on your lawn. Water accumulates below the ground and eventually emerges to the surface. At the same time, all that unfiltered sewage water will contaminate soil and groundwater.

So, you can deal with such problems, best to take preventative measures and make sure roots don’t grow into yard pipes.

Why Tree Roots Invade Pipes

tree roots in pipes

Tree roots don’t just grow anywhere. Like any organism, plants look for conditions that enable them to thrive and develop. 

The reason why roots invade pipes is that your drain pipes contain all the essential ingredients for growth. Inside a drain pipe, plants find water, nutrients, and oxygen. Roots are able to create damage to pipes because they are powerful and invasive. Root systems can be even double the size of the tree they support. 

There are three different scenarios of roots affecting underground pipes:

  • Roots find existing cracks or small holes and enter the pipe;
  • Roots create their own holes in weak pipes and start growing inside;
  • Roots develop around pipes and cause them to bend until they are crushed.

You may deal with invading tree roots especially if you live in an older house. Before the 1980s, clay pipes were commonly being used for sewage lines. This material has a short lifespan and can easily crack when suffocated by tree roots.

PVC or polyvinyl chloride pipes that are being used today are resistant to roots. They can last for up to one century. 

But even if you use PVC pipes, you still don’t want to plant a fast-growing, invasive tree near to your sewage line. Best is to prevent such situations from happening. 

Ways to Deal with Tree Roots in Pipes

Why Tree Roots Invade Pipes

1. Carefully Select the Trees and Plants for Your Garden

The best way to prevent a problem from happening is eliminating its causes. Root systems are different for every tree species and variety.

Did you know that some trees have roots that extend more than two times the height of the tree? The general rule of thumb is that the bigger the tree, the larger the root system.

An important rule to follow is planting large trees away from pipes. They may not represent a problem for the next several years, but their roots will eventually invade the nearby pipe.

If you still need to plant trees in areas with pipes, select shrubs or slow-growing species such as Japanese maple.

There are some trees that are more dangerous than others. Here are some species that can wreak havoc on your pipes: 

  • Aspen
  • Weeping willow
  • Beech
  • Elm 
  • Sycamore
  • Eucalyptus
  • Birch
  • Fig
  • Basswood
  • Poplar

Trees that are more friendly to yard pipes include: cherry, eastern redbud, magnolia, dogwood, and other fruit varieties.

2. Installing Root Barrier Systems

Installing Root Barrier Systems

Did you know you can use root guards for pipes that prevent roots from invading? There are multiple types of barriers that can keep those strong and thirsty roots away from your pipes. 

The two most common root barrier types are:

Solid Barriers

These are built from fiberglass or plastic. They are corrosion-resistant and can be highly effective. However, there is a downside to using these as they can inhibit water drainage. 

Permeable Barriers

This superior type of root barrier is a mesh that allows water and small roots to pass through. Larger roots that can represent a threat will not be able to pass through it.

No matter what type of barrier you choose, it’s important to select the right size. Installing the wrong size root barrier system can allow roots to grow around the screen and reach the pipes.

3. Don’t Overlook Inspections and Maintenance

Don’t wait for more than 2 years to check and clean your sewer system. Many homeowners don’t know that sewer lines need to be cleaned. 

Have you noticed how your kitchen sink drain clogs with residue from time to time? The same can happen to your main drain line as all the wastewater from your home passes through there. 

It may be difficult to remember checking something that is out of sight. But when problems appear, you may observe various warning signs, such as:

  • Drains working too slowly
  • Odors coming from sewers
  • Water pooling around floor drain in your basement
  • Sewage backup in toilet and other drains
  • Pipes making gurgling sounds
  • Water backing up into bathtub or shower when you use the washing machine

There can be multiple causes for these problems, with invading tree roots being the most severe. If you call a plumber to inspect your pipes, you can ask them to use a special camera.

This way they can see what’s inside your yard pipes. In some cases, you can find some things that don’t belong there, such as tree roots!

4. Root Killing Natural Substances

There are multiple substances you can flush in an attempt to kill invading tree roots. These solutions can be applied without calling a plumber or sewer line specialist. They also make pipes less attractive to roots by repelling them.

Copper Sulfate

Copper sulfate is a blue crystal available in most home improvement stores. It is a natural herbicide that kills tree roots that have entered your sewer pipes.

You don't need a large quantity to solve the problem - half a cup should do. The drawback with copper sulfate is that it will affect septic systems and kill the good bacteria decomposing waste.

Rock Salt to Kill Tree Roots

A widely-available and cheap ingredient that can help with invading tree roots is rock salt. Unlike copper sulfate, it is safe for use with septic systems.

The only precaution you need to take is not overdoing it. Too much salt can kill the entire tree, not just the root.

5. Using Chemical to Kill Tree Roots

root killing chemicals

If natural substances are not powerful enough to solve the problem, you can try chemicals. This product is recommended for severe recurring root problems. Unlike most root killers, it does not contain copper sulfate. 

When the root killing agent dichlobenil comes into contact with water, it foams and fills the entire pipeline. This way, new root growth is inhibited.

One of the advantages of the Roebic FRK-1LB Foaming Root Killer is that it does not harm surrounding trees. At the same time, the product is safe for all types of plumbing.

This root killer for pipes from Roebic is supported by more than 50 years of research and developing high-quality products targeting specific problems. 

A disadvantage of the Roebic root killer is being banned for use in septic systems in the state of Florida due to state regulations. The product is also not for sale outside the contiguous US.

6. Professional Root Removal

It is possible for roots invading your drain pipes to be too large and powerful. Mechanical methods to remove the roots may be necessary. 

When the root invasion is too severe, you will most likely have to bring in the professionals. Sewer line specialists have multiple methods of destroying invasive roots:

Using a Special Camera Called Endoscope

This enables plumbers and sewer line experts to view the inside of your pipes. This will determine the extent of your root problem and the location of the invasion.

Once specialists know exactly the location and severity of the problem, they can draw a plan to tackle it.

Using a Mechanical Auger

The mechanical auger or rooter is one of the most effective professional tools for removing roots. How is it used? Plumbers introduce the auger into the pipe, all the way down, until reaching the obstruction. 

Once it reaches the roots, the auger will cut them into small pieces with a saw. After the roots are chopped, the obstruction disappears and you can flush the pipe.

Hydro-Jetting

This method clears pipe obstructions by using high-pressure water flow. Special hydro-jetting devices can shoot water at up to 4000 psi, disintegrating roots.

The problem with this method, however, is that it can also destroy pipes if they are already old and/or damaged.

7. Relining Your Pipes

This repair method can be used when your sewer line is cracked but has not completely collapsed yet. A drainage expert can reline your pipework and create a barrier that protects pipes from invading tree roots.

If roots cannot penetrate your pipes, they will look elsewhere for water.

8. Replacing Your Pipes

Replacing your pipes to avoid root invasion

This radical solution is recommended when drainpipes are already too damaged and old. Many homeowners fear such projects because they are afraid they will have to dig trenches.

They are worried about destroying their landscape. The good news is that nowadays technology is advanced enough to perform "trenchless sewer lines".

This can be completed without digging up the yard and destroying all your hard work.

9. Relocating the Tree

Removing a tree is too much trouble? Or you are not willing to give up on it? You can relocate a tree successfully if you follow some simple rules:

  • You can transplant easily trees whose trunks are not larger than 2 inches; 
  • Move the tree during late fall or early spring, when the tree is in dormant state. At the same time, complete the task before the ground freezes;
  • Prune tree roots several months before the transplant. This practice encourages the growth of new feeder roots that absorb water and nutrients. As a result, the tree will adapt more easily to its new location;
  • Choose a suitable new site for the tree. Make sure the new spot ensures sufficient space, proper soil, light, and water conditions.

    Take the tree's mature size into consideration, as well as the root growth below the ground.

Also see: How to Deal with Problem Trees

10. Removing the Tree

Removing a tree due to roots invading pipes

A tree is a valuable asset (unless it is a pest species). Taking the decision to remove it is often difficult. In some cases, a tree may have grown too large for its space, threatening the house foundation and hard landscape.

Removing it may seem like an unthinkable solution, especially if it's well established. In some regions, you may be required a special permit from local authorities to remove the tree legally.

You may also be required to plant another tree. All things considered, removing a tree is not so easy. You will need permits and there is also the problem of removing the stump and restoring the aspect of your lawn.

Should you go for removing your tree, you will find our buying guide for tree stump grinder quite helpful.

There is an alternative to tree removal, which we present in the next and final point.

Wrapping Up Our Tree Roots in Pipes Guide

So, how can you stop tree roots from growing into your yard pipes? The solution is to use modern pipes made from resistant materials, as well as keeping roots away from drain lines.

This can be obtained by destroying invading roots or removing/avoiding trees with invading roots.

About the Author Ann Katelyn

I'm Ann Katelyn, Creator and Chief Author of Sumo Gardener. Since I was a child I've always been fascinated with plants and gardens, and as an adult this has developed into my most loved hobby. I have dedicated most of my life to gardening and started Sumo Gardener as a way to express my knowledge about gardening with the hope of helping other people's gardens thrive.

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