The Q&A Archives: Tree Root Systems

Question: I have a small hilside in my father's back yard that is dry and cracking and moving slowly. About 1/2 inch in the last 20 years. Now we haven't had the time or money to landscape, but I am slowly working on it. My question is: I need Three tree's that have deep and wide root systems to help strengthen the hill. Also, that don't get too big(25/30 ft. ideal at maturity). I plan on putting retaining walls up to help, but not until I plant the three tree's. I've been surfing the net for answers, but not one site I've been to has any info on the actual root systems of trees. I sure would appreciate some help, because I'd like to plant them before winter comes. Thank you very much.

Answer: The most realistic means of improving soil stability is to plant trees such as acacia, poplar and willow, all of which have fine, fibrous root systems that can reach monumental proportions. These trees can also bind the soil on slopes, and experts are proving that frequent topping of the canopies can stimulate root growth for greater subsoil stability. Other tree species suitable are acacias, eucalyptus, and sumac.

Spreading shrubs offer one of the most versatile groups of plants for erosion prone sites. A spreading shrub can grow to as much as ten feet or more in diameter at maturity, with just one main stem. Many of them are drought tolerant as well, which is a valuable quality for slope plants because irrigation runs off so quickly.

A group of woody natives known as bearberry, uva-ursi or manzanita, are perfect for erosion control. There's also a low, spreading Arctostaphylos hookeri. The cultivars 'Monterey Carpet' and 'Wayside', plus the A. uva-ursi cultivars 'Point Reyes' and 'Emerald Carpet' are the most widely available in your area. Good luck with your project!

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