The Root of Your Problems
What to do when a tree root is in your way.

Last year when I was redoing my backyard I came across a little problem. Well, it wasn’t so much a little problem as a 100 year old massive problem with raccoons, birds and bugs living in it. A tree root … wait a minute, did I refer to the time I was redoing my backyard as last year? Yeah, um … I think it was probably closer to 4 years ago. It only feels like last year.

Where was I?

Oh right, the tree root.  So when I was laying down my new flagstone and building my new planter beds a huge tree root from a bazillion year old maple tree was in the way.  There were 4 ways around the problem.  I could …

1.  Adjust all the plans to scale I had spent the past 2 months drawing up.

2.  I could hack away at the tree root with a hatchet.

3.  I could get and remain perpetually drunk so as not to notice the resulting wonky planter beds, or

3.  I could move.

I picked door number 2 and hacked away at the tree root.  The root was huge, the tree was huge, I didn’t see a problem with taking a little bit off.  And there wasn’t a problem.  I just chipped away at the root until I could fit my planter beds where I wanted them and that was that.

Then a few days ago while I was framing my chicken coop I realized I needed an extra inch.  Literally, just one inch.  In order to get that inch of floor space for my chicken coop to fit, I was going to have to hack away at another root.  And not just any root.  It was the root to my absolute favourite rose bush.

A 20 year old climbing rose bush that spreads over my side gate.  Now, a mere mortal would be fearful of this.  I am not a mere mortal.  I’m a girl.  Plus I had no other option.  Having no other option in any situation gives most of us superpowers we had no idea we had.  Like that guy who chewed off his own arm when he got stuck in a gulley.

Cutting branches and bits of roots usually doesn’t harm the plant as long as you do it right.  Here, is how to do it right.

Make sure whether you’re cutting a branch or a root that you use clean, sharp tools.  You want your cut to be nice and smooth, not jagged and hackey.  Hacky?  Hackie.  Don’t hack away at it.  Also, don’t take away huge amounts.  Use common sense.  If you’re removing 3/4’s of the root then chances are your plant isn’t going to do well afterwards.

Brush away any debris.


To cut the inch out of my rose root I used a sharp wood chisel and a hammer.


Once your cut area is cleaned, squeeze some Outdoor Wood Glue on it.  If you don’t have any of that you can use Regular Wood Glue.  If you don’t have Regular Wood Glue you can use Regular White Glue. If you don’t have Regular White Glue, clearly you’re on the wrong website.


Using a paint brush paint the glue across all the cut root or branch surface.  If you don’t have a paint brush use your finger.  If you don’t have a finger I’m truly sorry for you.

Once the glue dries, your cut will be sealed and the job is done.  The idea behind the glue is to seal the surface and keep bacteria and disease from getting in.

And you’re done.  Now wasn’t that easier than moving?


  1. Teshia says:

    This is a great post because I am facing this VERY exact issue and to be honest, I REALLY didn’t want to move. Unless it was to a much bigger house w/ trees that aren’t smack dab in the way of my gardening space. Thanks!

  2. carol says:

    this is awesome. having hacked away at a number of roots myself. maybe some of them last week. and maybe some of them with a shovel and my foot and the weight of my person. or a hatchet.

    and outdoor wood glue! a substance that is new to me! when you’re not slathering it non-hacky root jobs, do you use it for wood construction that will be … outdoors?

    i’m already missing the coop cam, i have to say. those chickens are a freaking riot.

    • Karen says:

      Carol – Yes. One would use outdoor wood glue on wood that one would use outdoors. 😉 ~ karen

      • carol says:

        as a theatre person, i generally only make things requiring wood glue that will be indoors. as a person who is considering chickens (but waiting for you to test it all out first on my behalf) … well. this outdoor wood glue seems vital for any number of projects. hooray!

  3. lori says:

    I have often wondered how to do this the correct way,as in not hurting the tree. thanks know i know. know how to dig one up without hurting the tap root so that i can re-plant it in my yard.

    • Karen says:

      Lori – What kind of plant, how big is the tap root and why do you want to replant something w/ a tap root? They’re usually invasive plants that will only anger you in the end. Meh. What do I care. It’s your tap root. ~ karen

  4. Jennifer says:

    Confession: I’ve been so busy with work that I’ve been neglecting your blog. (Come to think of it, I’ve been neglecting my blog, too.) So glad I stopped by tonight for this tidbit of classic Karen-ness: “If you don’t have Regular White Glue, clearly you’re on the wrong website.” Laughed. Out loud, even. Needed that!
    P.S. Hope you’re feeling better.

  5. amy walters, aDESIGNdock says:

    Nice 😉

  6. stephanie says:

    Oh Canada! I had a dream and you were in it! You were inside a wire fence cage with a bear (very big bear with very sharp teeth) and you were pouring concrete into molds to make….wait for it…..concrete antlers! You looked really tired too! I’m sure this is related to the coop construction, but can’t quite figure out how….oh well, at least I remembered the dream enough to tell you about it!

  7. Library Mix says:

    Very helpful and clear! I appreciate the instructions as much as the humor.

  8. Shauna says:

    Hack a finger – put super glue on it; hack a root – put wood glue on it. You and your fella were meant for each other;)

    • Karen says:

      Shauna – It just occurred to me. I wonder what kind of glue I’d use for this hacking cough in my throat. ~ karen

  9. Dean says:

    Hey Karen…

    I love the humorous tone of the post! Unfortunately the information is all incorrect unless I have been taught differently over the last 20 some years of so. By sealing the wound or hackie, you are promoting rot by sealing moisture into the root. Go ahead and hack away within reason, but please don’t apply anything to any wound or hack on a root, trunk or branch! Remember in the good ole days when people would put tar on a pruning wound? This only made humans feel better and worsened the health of the plant. I have even seen tin sheet metal placed over tree wounds! Weird, anyway if you must make yourself feel more at one with nature, make the cut or hack so that water drains off of the wound or away from the trunk, but please don’t seal it! Please email me if you would like the correct standard horticultural procedure for correct pruning methods and root pruning! Also, please email me if you have contrary information that isn’t from the guy selling chicken coops and flagstone patios!

    • Karen says:

      Dean! Thanks for your input! I’m going to stand by my procedure for this job though. I know you were expecting that. 🙂 For one thing, the cut was straight across the root so there was no way for water to drain off the cut. It would just sit there and rot away. I don’t seal any branch cuts ever because they can always be done on an angle. However, if I’m doing a root job where water could be sitting for days on end, OR if it’s a plant that’s susceptible to disease or insects through open wounds, like a rose bush or a birch tree I seal it. Been doing this for 15 years. So not quite your 20, but close. How’s that? Can you live with that? 🙂 ~ karen

  10. interior design help says:

    Great tips…I did not know about sealing with wood glue hopefully I won’t come across large tree roots in my backyard but you never can tell.

  11. Shauna says:

    Option #3 seems like fun, for the first couple of days!!

  12. Jean Russell says:

    i have a huge Hong Kong Orchid tree with enormous roots and want to cut them back as they are growing into water and sewer pipes. The roots are fairly long and big around. Can I cut the roots, apply wood glue and save the tree. It is beautiful and I don’t want to loose it. Also, what is meant by “Plugging the Roots” and how is it done.? The tree has been there about 25 or 30 years, that I know of.. Any information you can give would be greatly appreciate


  13. Elbert McDonald says:

    What started out as hedges are now ten foot trees. They are next to my hot tub foundation. Can I cut the roots and save the privacy trees, or do I need a professional arborist?

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