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Mr. Smarty Plants - Live oak roots and house foundation in Austin

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Sunday - March 01, 2009

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Live oak roots and house foundation in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Our builder left a live oak on our lot that is 7' from our foundation. The tree is now around 18' tall with a 20" circumference. Will this tree eventually cause damage to our foundation and is there some way to prune a live oak to make the tree grow away from our roof?

ANSWER:

While it is certainly true that tree roots can grow up to three times the spread of a tree, the problem in foundations, especially in our very dry climate, is soil subsidence. The tree root does its part on this by looking for water and sucking it up, but the very dry soil is probably going to drop and shrink anyway, and that is much more likely to cause the foundation damage then the tree roots. That having been said, 7' is still pretty close to a house for a tree that will grow as big as a live oak, and not just because of the roots. There is really no way to tell a live oak to grow in another direction, and the branches against your roof can definitely cause problems. Insects, not to mention squirrels and raccoons, consider tree branches against a house as an open invitation to come in, have a bite to eat, and spend the winter. Certainly a trained arborist could prune the branches away from the house, but when you prune a plant, where does the new growth appear? Right, it appears in the area you pruned. And you surely don't want to be pruning now, as the Nitiludid beetle is most active in this area from now until May or June. That pesky bug also considers newly cut or damaged tree trunks or branches as an invitation. And, in that case, this often results in the spread of Oak Wilt disease, which has no known cure but prevention. We can't really recommend one way or the other on removing the tree (we assume you choose the house over the tree?) but you should certainly get the opinion of the aforementioned tree specialist. We would suggest you contact the Texas A&M AgriLIFE Extension Office in Travis County for possible information on this subject, and/or referral to an experienced arborist.
 

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