How to save a plum tree whose roots have been damaged by building work

posted in: Trees in trouble 0

Dan received this request in June 2020:

“Hello, I just came across your amazing website whilst researching how to save a plum tree. I am renovating a church hall in (…) and for some reason our builders decided to dig a channel to lay a drainage pipe right alongside our plum tree, cutting through at least two major roots.

Not surprisingly, the tree started to fall over! The builders propped up the trunk with large ‘X’ frames but it is still sloping at about 45 degrees. I think that over half the root system is intact.

The plum tree is a mature and neglected specimen. Until last winter it had been totally overshadowed by a huge yew tree growing nearby, which we felled earlier this year. The result was that this has been the first season that the plum tree produced fruit.

We love the tree, with its gnarly, elongated shape, and we desperately want to save it. We think it is important to prune it heavily to reduce the weight of the canopy and take the pressure off the remaining roots.

Please could you give us some advice on what we should do. We have considered propping it back up, or moving the entire tree to a new hole further away from the area where there are now extensive excavations. Should we coppice it and hope it grows new shoots? Or is there no hope, and we should just cut it down and plant a new tree?

Dan’s reply (8 June 2020):

The chances of success are not great. Going by your pictures, a minor part of the root system is still undisturbed in the soil. It is of the greatest importance that the support system in place stops any movement of the tree. Next, cut the tree back now, with a chainsaw, to a height of approximately 8 feet above the point of support, in other words, 8 feet above where the main branch is resting on the support frame. Without delay, seal the wounds with HEAL AND SEAL or ARBREX. Water the roots that are still firmly anchored in the soil, WEEKLY, with 8 gallons of water, until the leaves drop naturally in late November.

If the tree has survived by then, please let me know and various options can then be discussed.

Lots of luck!

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