Advice from a gardener or tree surgeon?

30 Mar 2011
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United Kingdom
Hi there,

My girlfriend and I are about to embark on a project to replace the fence at the rear of our flat's garden.

We've always harboured a suspicion that a brick-built flowerbed and part wall at one end of the fence might be hiding something and from what she's told me this has now turned out to be true.

Our neighbours on the other side of the fence have a large flowerbed, extending maybe 1m above the concrete base of the yard, in one corner of which is a plum tree extending to (very roughly) 6-7m if you include the top of the branches.

When my girlfriend was cleaning out the bed today, it turned out that the roots of the tree have penetrated the liner of the bed, and gone through the existing fence panel, and the bed/wall appear to be holding it back.

I'm going to do a more thorough investigation tomorrow and may be able to post pictures. I've always thought that the root system must extend below the concrete, or the tree would have fallen over by now.

[As an aside, the houses are terraced early 20th century purpose-built flats - most likely with bathroom extension at the rear - and our rear yard is one concrete slab. Investigating the flowerbed in our garden that exists to one side of the slab shows nothing but clay up to 30cm down, well below the level of the concrete; I surmise that the houses were built on greenfield and the concrete put there later. So it's entirely possible that either the tree was put there on their side before the concrete was poured; or that it was planted into a hole in the concrete. That said, the concrete on our side shows no signs of cracking as if it's being forced apart by tree roots]

My question is this:

Is it possible to cut this errant tree root without damaging the tree?
Should we need to wait until a certain time of year to do this?
Should we use some kind of chemical treatment to seal the cut root?

Would this be more likely to harm the tree, or to stop the roots re-penetrating the new fence?

I have very little knowledge of gardening or looking after trees.

At present we're on fairly good terms with the neighbours over there, an older woman and her son, although I've only spoken to them a couple of times. Obviously we're going to have to resolve this problem in consultation with them, but the lady seems very attached to the tree and I don't think she'll be happy with a "try it and see" approach.

Any help/advice very gratefully received!

Thanks in advance
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My brother used to be a tree surgeon. The only advice he got from his boss was 'don't let go of the chainsaw whilst it's running' - some horrible stories of limbs going flying!

Not sure what to do about your root problem. How old and big and solid is the tree? If it's been there for a while, cutting this particular root won't do any damage, but you may want to think about finding a way to stop it re-growing in the same direction.

Garden Arbours
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Legally speaking if a tree is overhanging your garden you are entitled to cut it back the same applies to tree roots which can cause a lot of damage, but whatever you cut off you are supposed to give the waste back to the tree owner.
First of all have a word with the tree's owner and tell them what you propose to do, more neighbourly arguments stem from shared hedges etc and these arguments can develope into fueds, be careful?

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