Tree Roots and Oxygen

This is a small extract from a book written in 1934 entitled The Care and Repair of Ornamental Trees. The author A.D.C. Le Sueur was the Superintendent of Burnham Beeches, a member of H.M Forestry Commission’s Advisory Committee for S.E. England and a member of The Executive Committee of the Royal Forestry Society of England and Wales.

“The root system of a tree needs air just as much as the leaves. This fact is not generally well recognised. Tree roots consume oxygen and give off carbon dioxide, and if the air supply is checked, growth will be seriously affected. A supply of oxygen is also required by the micro-organisms which break down mineral and organic matter to a condition in which they can be used by the root system.

Interference with air supply can take place in various ways. The piling of soil over roots is a common cause of death, especially if clay is used. Apart from the supply of oxygen a lack of free air circulation results in accumulation of carbon dioxide given off by the roots, and if this is heavily concentrated the roots may die. Displacement of air with water, faulty soil texture and the blanketing action of well-trodden soil over a root system can have the same affect.

Faulty soil conditions are responsible for ill health in trees to a far greater extent then is disease. No amount of repair pruning, fertilization can restore a tree to health if the conditions under which it grows are not as they should be. A knowledge of the way in which a tree grows is of the greatest importance to arboriculturists.”

Given that 86 years has passed, what has arboriculture done with that knowledge that would make the author proud of us? Can we, or should we, being doing better having had the knowledge all this time?

David Dowson

Tree roots in a sunny forest

Image: Tree roots in a sunny forest, via Adobe Stock.


About Tree Life AC Ltd

Tree Life is a company specialising in arboricultural consultancy and training for professional arboriclutural qualifications.
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