Many of us have come across numerous facts regarding trees that sometimes make us wonder if they are accurate or just a tell-tale. While some sound more compelling than others, countless myths have been uncovered and proven wrong by science today.

Here you will find such ten popular tree myths that you might have heard, or you could even be accepting them! Let us dive in and eliminate all our confusion and uncertainties related to the trees.

Table of Contents

1. Water your trees to keep them healthy and lush.

Water is the reason for the existence of all living beings on earth. And, the same goes for trees. But, I have seen many people pouring in gallons of water on the roots of their trees, meaning to hydrate them from the core. But is it necessary to hydrate the trees externally?

The trees in forests are the best they have ever been, and no one waters them!

You don’t need to water your trees under normal circumstances. The roots go deep into the soil in search of nutrients and moisture. And since the ground below is moist due to underground water, they will not require water from above.

Water your trees to keep them healthy and lush
Banyan Tree in Hawai (source)

However, as for dry seasons, you might need to give your trees an extra water boost. A large tree only requires about 10 gallons of water in a week in dry seasons. This volume is roughly equivalent to two flushes of the toilet.

Although water is essential in giving your tree a good start, too much can do more harm than good. And research indicates that more trees are dying due to drowning than drought.

2. Trees are known to hit and knockout objects.

Branches and trunks of trees are emerging here, and there are significant threats to the traffic. Many times, they obstruct the vision of traffic signals and oncoming vehicles, causing accidents. The same goes for the sidewalk injuries brought about by the trees.

Overhanging tree branches extending towards the road (source)

Hence, a solid recommendation is to maintain a fourteen-foot road clearance and eight feet over the sidewalks. It is always recommended to prune and trim the branches of trees from a very young age to prevent them from developing into gigantic unruly creatures causing obstructions.

All in all, trees for sure could be one reason for road accidents. But they certainly don’t go about or grow out and smash nearby objects. If a speeding car crashes itself on the trees, we can’t hold the tree responsible, can we?

3. Roots can only spread as wide as the tree’s coverage.

A popular belief that the tree’s roots only stay within and around the tree’s circumference is a prevalent myth. This settlement is an infrequent occurrence. Many trees in the forest are found to reach broad and beyond their canopy.

Old tree in Denmark with exposed roots (source)

Experts have proved that the roots grow horizontally to a distance equivalent to the tree’s height or even more. It is also found that the radicals in the forest are intertwined with one another and can travel long distances.

4. Tree stakes are a tree’s best friend!

Trees do not need any support; their roots are enough. Although it might be beneficial to stake a small sapling in certain circumstances, staking does more harm than good for a tree that’s at least a year old.

People often stake a tree sapling at a young age to prevent external injuries such as strong winds, rain, animals, etc. However, many of us forget to remove the stake as the trees grow. And many times, as the tree develops, the stake damages the roots and the structure of the tree.

Various types of tree stakes (source)

We frequently see that the stakes get infused or covered into the trunk. And although it may appear harmless to the viewers, the same cannot be said for the health of the trees. These stakes act as a point of damage to the trees inviting various kinds of infections.

And addressing the other central myth of getting a good strong wood through staking – the process will only reduce the tree’s natural growth, making it weaker.

5. Trees can damage your land mowers.

Several gardeners are scared of taking their hand mowers near the tree canopy. They believe that the solid aerial roots are robust enough to damage the land mowers. And, what’s wrong in hand cutting a few grass patches in comparison to risking buying a new land mower?

They also believe that these roots damage the grass and prevent them from growing bushy.

The truth is, roots don’t usually grow upwards and out of the soil. Such root surfacing tendencies are a result of construction and compact soil. And, in case you have a few roots growing in an upward direction, they cannot damage your land mowers. Nor do they seed any damage to the spread of your lawn grass.

Hence, go ahead and get those land mowers running beneath the trees as well.

6. Pruning encourages root branching.

When planting or re-potting a tree, people often tend to work a lot on the root ball. They are very tempted to heavily prune the roots, hoping to stimulate additional growth on the root system. It is assumed that more rhizomes are equal to a healthy and happy tree.

However, experts recommend not pruning the root ball before planting a tree unless you see a damaged or infected root. Root pruning might do good for your potted plants but will harm and stunt your backyard trees.

And if you want to prune the roots in response to a heavy root ball formation, let me tell you that it is an unnecessary step. The root ball will automatically start spreading and unraveling as soon as you plant it on the ground.

7. Tree roots are the culprits for sidewalk cracking.

Trees have been carrying the burden of this myth for a very long time!

As it is indiscriminate human nature to blame others, we don’t even spare the trees! The cracks and crevices on your sidewalks and pavements result from poor design and soil conditions, not obstructive roots.

Tree roots affecting the sideways (source)

All soil is different in composition. And soil tendency to shrink and swell also differs based on varied locations, temperature, and presence of moisture. Hence, the construction design that works for the Downtown pavement won’t necessarily work for your neighborhood sidewalks.

The United States Department of NRCS demonstrates these differences in soil composition through a soil survey map. Due to the poor construction map and soil conditions, the roots usually follow the gaps and spaces present in the pavement and sidewalks.

The next time we see cracks and crevices in our sidewalk, we better blame the engineer and construction team.

8. Trees are responsible for sewer line disruption.

Sewer lines are deep in the ground, while most roots are found within the top twenty-four inches of the earth. On rare occasions, a few rootstocks may go deep into the soil and in line with the sewer pipes.

Even in such instances, the roots do not disrupt or break the sewer lines. They start growing in and around the sewer lines only when the sewer breaks and releases humidity. Though the roots are attracted to moisture, they don’t technically cause any disruption to an unbroken sewer line.

Reports and instances of sewer line breakage due to roots is much common. However, we do not hear any incidents of rootstocks breaking the water lines. Why so? Water lines are made up of cast iron and are unbreakable. However, sewer lines are made up of clay tiles.

Hence, the next time a neighbor reports about that beautiful old tree causing sewer problems, make sure to enlighten them with some words of wisdom!

9. Trees have a single taproot.

Contrary to this belief, most trees do not have any taproot after their seedling stage. They quickly develop and spread the water seeking lateral and federal roots as they grow about a few months old.

Taproots are only frequent in trees of the desert and dry climates as the roots have to drill in deep to access underground water. These roots usually act as a storage unit of food and water.

But as trees in tropical and other favorable climates do not need to store the nutrients and water later, they do not develop any tap roots. They begin to produce numerous rhizomes directly surrounding the trunk. These trees absorb food directly from the topsoil.

Furthermore, areas with shallow and compact soil will reduce the occurrence of deep roots. They are more suited for federal roots that spread around like a mat with very few deep roots to hold the tree.

10. It is terrific to the tunnel near the trees; the roots can endure.

Root damage can lead to severe implications for the trees. And tunneling near a tree for whatever purpose is always a bad idea. A small cut or damage to the roots may lead to a severe fungal and bacterial infection. And, if the damage occurs in the taproot, you might end up threatening its life.

Even the tiniest cut made by the telephone lines or water sprinklers can prove to be hazardous. A simple example is that the human body can endure minor scratches on the top skin and veins. However, if the cut extends to the arteries, it can be life-threatening. The same goes for the root of the trees!

If you want your grandchildren to enjoy the fruits from that old apple tree on your lawn, make sure never to disturb the root system.

To conclude

I hope the smog in your heads around trees and their nature has now been cleared. There are many similar myths and unconventional beliefs around trees that have been proven wrong by science and research.

All in all, trees do not harm the environment. They have never entered someone’s house and caused havoc. However, if we go and construct our fence right beside a tree trunk, it will undoubtedly grow its girth and ruin the wall in a matter of some time. Now, we cannot blame the trees, can we?

And here’s a quick trick to help you differentiate between a fact and a myth around trees, if something sounds too amusing to be true, it probably is not!

(Last Updated on October 4, 2021 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!