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I tilled an area about 3 feet from a large Crape Myrtle (all the way around), about 6 inches down. I did indeed get a lot of small roots (like pencil thick) and a couple large ones (about wrist thick) that I had to chop and remove. Will some of these be replaced by the tree? I really hope I didnt kill the tree.

*EDIT: it's been 2yrs & 1mos (Jan 2019) and the tree is still standing strong!

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I'm afraid only time will tell - generally, its never a good idea to cut through any roots from a tree, though a little disturbance of fine (less than half the thickness of a pencil) roots in a single area doesn't usually cause too much trouble. However, that is not what you're describing at all - it appears you have cut through some much larger 4-6 inch roots, and through less thick roots all round the tree. If you live in an arid region and the soil is very dry, you could certainly increase frequency of watering, but that depends to some extent on the season wherever you are as to whether that will make much difference. Otherwise, there is nothing you can do to offset the damage, what's done is done - the tree will either recover, or it will die.

  • I live in central Maryland, and the soil is quite good around the tree. But, yes, as I described, I did cut through a lot of small roots and a couple large (baseball bat) sized roots. =( – scott.schaffer Nov 18 '16 at 19:16
  • When you say crape myrtle, you do mean Lagerstromeria, which are deciduous, and not a Myrica (wax myrtle) variety, many of which are evergreen? – Bamboo Nov 18 '16 at 19:19
  • Definitely Lagerstromeria. Very large, probably 25ft. – scott.schaffer Nov 18 '16 at 21:02
  • I added pics above – scott.schaffer Nov 18 '16 at 21:11
  • Your tree will be fine. You did an incredible job. This is a super solution to that spot. Congratulations. I would get some mycorrhizae, and I would water well, allow to dry and water deeply again. What a beautiful tree!! 25'? That would be a record for Lagerstromia. Will not be getting any larger/taller. As this guy was planned to be a big part of your 'addition' I would get that fungus and make sure to water well. You and your tree should be fine. Absolutely beautiful design! Your tree will not get too big for your opening. How does the canopy/leaves look? Beautifully done!! – stormy Nov 18 '16 at 21:47
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We do the exact same thing when moving a tree to a new location. Cutting the roots helps a tree to produce new feeder roots within a rootball that is manageable. Very basic way to move any plant, shrub or tree. Just don't do it again. And water often and deeply.

I'd go get some mycorrhizae at a plant store to help the roots left operate better. Mycorrhizae is a common fungus that works with roots in a symbiotic way. Whenever I transplanted any tree, shrub, I'd always apply some of this fungus. And even moving 20' Rhododendrons in the middle of summer I've not had a single death yet.

Do allow the soil to dry out before watering deeply again. You could also get some 3 or 4 inch PVC, drill holes every 6" beginning with the rim. Insert it at an angle within the drip line (draw a line to the ground from the perimeter of the canopy, make a circle around the base of your tree. Within that circle is an upside down version of the canopy. Not as deep as the depth of the canopy, roots are shallow. When you water, also put water in the pipe. Roots are pretty much within the top 6" of soil and not much farther. This will encourage deeper root growth to get at the moisture down deeper. When the soil dries out at the top 2 inches of soil, water deeply again. Forget fertilizer or any other additives until spring.

Something else you should do is lightly prune by thinning not heading. Reduce the canopy that needs lots of water. This will lessen stress of your tree. Need to reduce canopy when you cut roots.

Why are you tilling?

  • I added pics above – scott.schaffer Nov 18 '16 at 21:11
  • I added another picture of the full tree. Thanks for the kind words! My father (pictured) and I did all the work by hand. Totally happy with the results. Trying to keep the tree alive was a non-negotiable part of the plans, so I hope we did it right.. Could you explain how to apply the fungus? Especially now that you see how the tree is? – scott.schaffer Nov 18 '16 at 22:25
  • @stormy - would you describe roots 6 inches diameter as 'feeder' roots? So far as I know the inexact term 'feeder' roots applies to the very small and numerous roots coming off main roots? – Bamboo Nov 18 '16 at 22:36
  • He said baseball bat sized. Major roots for sure. This is how I prepared large trees/shrubs to be moved...or sold to 'Big Trees'. If people saw what the Microsoft kids purchase...one 10x10 Rhododendron goes for 10,000 bucks people wouldn't be so quick to get rid of plants they know nothing about. I've done this insane stuff with insanely rich people. One doesn't 'fail'...know what I mean? It is a done deal but he left a great root ball diameter. We are going into the dormant season and I've seen worse cases with mature plants transplanted or forced into a new reality. – stormy Nov 19 '16 at 5:11
  • @stormy erm, he describes a couple of them as 'wrist thick' - my wrist measures 6 inches, all round, my sister's is 7 inches... dunno what size a baseball bat is in comparison, except one end's thicker than the other isn't it – Bamboo Nov 20 '16 at 12:05

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