Barrier Systems: How to Manage Tree Roots and Your Options for Protecting Your Hardscape and Landscape Work

When you have put your time, energy, heart, soul, and MONEY into designing and installing the perfect hardscape and landscape creation, the last thing you want is to see it all destroyed by something you could have prevented.

All-too-often such destruction comes from tree roots that have grown wildly and unrestricted, eventually causing sidewalks to rise up, other landscape features to be strangled, and even interfering with irrigation and lighting.

How or why does unchecked tree root growth create problems with landscape and hardscape designs and installations?

No doubt… trees are a delightful addition to most hardscape and landscape plans. Not only do trees look good, they also provide shade for other plants and flowers, and even for seating such as benches—and/or the people who sit or stand in their shade or on the seating put in place beneath the tree’s umbrella. For these reasons and more, many of these designs will be created with trees integrated to at least some extent.

Although, along with the benefits that trees provide, they can also present challenges as well.

When Do You Need a Root Barrier System for Tree Root Management?

When tree roots grow unchecked or unmanaged in any way, it is very common for the roots could eventually create a problem. Of course, they aren’t trying to be a nuisance. In most cases, they are just growing toward the best possible soil—that which is near the surface.

As mentioned above, it is likely they will come to break through the ground and uproot sidewalks and other design elements like lights, poles, and seating. The roots can also harm or damage other landscaping and even watering systems. Not surprisingly, the buckling of sidewalks from haphazard tree roots —even if they don’t break through the sidewalks completely —can be dangerous to passerby. There is a significant potential risk of tripping or worse, falling, due to the unsteadiness that comes from walking on uneven ground.

What Is a Tree Root Barrier?

The good news is that there are some rather simple solutions that can help to prevent these problems and eliminate this risk. Root barrier systems can be integrated that manage tree root growth by directing that growth as desired, instead of just allowing it to be unwieldy. That’s why they are sometimes referred to a “root growth guides” (

When Managing Tree Roots Does a Root Barrier System Damage the Tree?

Poorly installed root barriers could possibly hurt trees — or the tree roots — but they are more likely to just not work. On the other hand, if installed properly, tree root barrier systems should not damage the tree roots or the tree itself. 

Some of the most important keys to the proper installation of root barriers include:
  1. Placing the tree root barrier before planting trees or when trees are new and immature —with very minimal root systems at the time of installation.
  2. Proper soil preparation—loosening and tilling the soil and adding compost into the expected depth of the mature root system, so that it is most hospitable for healthy root growth.
  3. Expanding the root barrier so that it is at least the width of the “apron” area under the tree’s projected trunk and branches.
  4. Installing the root barrier at the correct depth—leaving enough room for the tree roots to grow well but in a manner that is directed or controlled downward and away from the surface.
  5. Leaving some of the root barrier above the surface of the ground, compacting the soil around the base of the tree, and then adding mulch.

What Are My Root Barrier Choices?

But there is even more good news! You not only have an option for a tree root barriers for tree root management that work to help solve this problem, you have more than one option. There are choices in tree root barrier systems that address a variety of different styles, designs, and needs when it comes to your hardscape and landscape.

Root traps and screens are common but are generally less effective than other available options.

This type of root barrier system usually consists of a screen-type mesh metal material or woven fabric. Then, it will have holes in it to allow root tips to break or poke through without growing completely through or being totally cut off or strangled.

Chemical root barriers have some basic design features in common with root traps and screens. These root barriers are also fabric or textile in nature but covered in a chemical that inhibits root growth too and this restricts the growth of the entire root system. The only real problem though, is that the effectiveness of the chemical growth preventative diminishes over time—especially in areas where soil temperature and moisture are higher.

The most common root barriers are root deflectors.

Plastic root barrier panels are a very commonly used form of root deflector. Yet, while effective, the huge barrier panels can be cumbersome and unwieldy.

See, these plastic root barrier panels need to be installed in a line or linear pattern. You can also surround or encompass the root system but since these panels are pretty inflexible, this must be done in a square shape. Thus, the area needed for the root barrier or deflectors will be rather large and expanse.

Another alternative to consider with root barrier panels is “pruning” the root by blocking it off at a certain point.

Root Barrier Roll Products—The Best Choice as a Tree Root Barrier?

Another somewhat new root deflector choice is root barrier roll.

Root barrier rolls have a big advantage over other options in that they can accommodate almost any shape or design. Typically, they just unroll and so can even create a fully circular barrier pattern around the full tree root system in its natural shape. 

The material of root barrier rolls might be textile but usually, it’s made of pliable metal or most commonly, heavy-duty plastic.

What is the Best Tree Root Barrier Option for Tree Root Management in Your Hardscape?

The best option you can — or should — choose for your root barrier or tree root management, will likely be determined by:

  1. The type of tree(s) being planted
  2. Their natural root system growth pattern
  3. The soil (natural temperature and moisture)
  4. Hardscape elements (irrigation, lighting, sidewalks)
  5. Whether you install — or can install —the desired barrier system before planting or when trees are still saplings with immature root systems

When Considering Root Barrier Cost, Be Sure to Consider Quality…

Once all the above questions (and answers!) have been considered, then it’s time to determine which of the available root barrier systems will work best in and for your situation. For example, if your landscape and hardscape design has curves instead of hard edges, you are likely going to need to consider root traps and screens, chemical root barriers, and/or root barrier roll products that give you the flexibility you need.

Obviously, you want to also factor quality into the equation, especially contemplating how important it is for the root barrier to work effectively, as well as how long you need your root barrier to last.

Meaning—if you are just trying to prevent entanglement with surrounding landscape or infrastructure/utilities just below the surface, then you might not need a deep root barrier that goes way down and lasts for years and years. You just might need to direct growth to slightly below these elements. Alternately, if you are planting trees right next to sidewalks or built in benches and features such as playgrounds, etc., you need a deep root barrier that is going to go much deeper and last considerably longer.

Sidewalk Shield: An Affordable Root Barrier Product that WORKS for Tree Root Management

Sidewalk Shield is a brand of tree root barrier roll that is becoming a really popular deep root barrier option. It’s affordable and effective for tree root management. Created from high-density recycled plastic (HDPE), the material itself will last 100+ years underground. Yet, while it’s super tough and durable, it’s only 1/10th of an inch in thickness while offering 200 pounds of puncture strength. It is available in many different sizes (length and width/depth) to fulfill almost any size and coverage need.

Tree root control is rather simple with SidewalkShield!

Sidewalk Shield helps to control tree root growth without hindering it. If installed properly, there is almost no chance that Sidewalk Shield could harm a tree’s root system or especially, the tree itself. The key, as Sidewalk Shield likes to say, in maximum ease and effectiveness when using the product is, “Plan before you plant.”

What does this mean exactly? Again, Sidewalk Shield comes in a variety of depths/heights so that it can be well installed into the ground to guide tree (or bush/shrub) root growth downward. In doing this, the growth of the root system(s) is controlled. Thus, preventing those roots from uprooting your hardscape or landscape design. That’s why we can say that when done right, planning for — and installing — Sidewalk Shield can help you to avoid costly replacement of sidewalks, roads, driveways, septic systems, etc.

Learn more about Sidewalk Shield at

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