Root structure of maples trees (how many can I cut?)

I'm digging a trench about 1 foot deep for a fence. The trench at one point is about 10 feet from a large sugar maple. The trunk is about 3 feet in diameter.
I'm seeing some large roots that are very close to the surface - maybe only a few inches below the soil surface. These roots are 3 or 4 inches in diameter.
A year or two ago when I started the trench I had to cut one or two large roots and I didn't see any branches die or leafs wilt and fall off. The trench is now at the closest point to the tree (10 feet) and I'm wondering if I can cut 3 more of these large roots. The soil they are in is clay (hard as concrete) if it matters.
I can't believe that the roots for this tree are so close to the surface. Do sugar maples have deeper roots as well as these shallow ones?
(please post responses - this e-mail is bogus)
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I'm envious of your roots 3 or 4 inches below surface. I have many maple root partially above surface that make it very hard to mow. I cut maple roots indescriminatley.
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Garden Guy said:

The tree won't die immediately, but rest assured that cutting (several) roots that size /will/ do irreversable damage to the tree, and shorten it's life.

Almost all trees have shallow root systems, especially in heavier soils. They aren't mirror images of what you see above ground. Think about it. How much oxygen do you think can get to the roots, more than a couple feet below the surface, again especially in heavier soils?
I'm curious as to what kind of fence you're installing, that requires a trench, as opposed to post holes. If you can get through the area by only digging holes for the posts, you'd be better off. I'd be willing to bet that if you continue with the trench, cutting 3-4 more large roots (and the entire feeder system behind the cuts), you'll lose the tree within a decade. You'll also have to deal with a large area of fungi growing in the area, as the dead root systems decay.
IMO, I'd avoid doing any more serious damage to the tree.
--

Eggs

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Eggs Zachtly wrote:

I would have thought that water supply was a more important function for the roots than air supply.
Presumably the roots need air for their own needs, and not to transport it up into the trunk, branches and leaves - in which case paving over the roots is of more concern than cutting them (as far as oxygen goes).

It's a concrete sound wall (about 2-3 inches thick) but it requires a shallow foundation between posts. The posts have been in place for several years (6" x 6" spruce, set into 12" concrete piers, spaced 10 feet apart).

I'd really like to not have to cut these roots, but they are too shallow and I can't form the footing with them there, even if I modify the design. I wonder if I could tap into the root with a connector and attach a water line and feed water directly into the root?
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Garden Guy said:

Both are /essential/ to the survival of the tree.

Even covering shallow (or above ground) roots with soil, is bad. The roots have established themselves that shallow for a reason. When you place them deeper by covering them up (with anything), you shorten the life of the tree. Maybe the results won't show for years, but they'll evenually show. Things planted deep, rot.

Ahh, you didn't say "wall"; you said, "fence".
Quote:

/quote
There's a big difference between a 'fence' and a 'wall'. With a fence, you could alter the span of a post or two, and get away with it. Something as heavy as a 'concrete sound wall' most likely needs support it's entire length. Sounds like someone missed something, during the planning stages. If the design can't be altered to save the tree, it may not be salvageable. All you can do is put up the wall and hope for the best.

That may just shorten the life of the tree. It's not the large root that collects the water. It just transports it. All the little tiny roots that you severed are the ones that "get" the food/water/gas. By "injecting" the larger root with water, you're just hastening the rot.
Who knows? The tree may last you another 40 years. It may also only last you 4. All you can do is try and provide it with it's needs, and hope mother nature doesn't deal you a blow that puts additional stress on the tree.
Good luck,
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Eggs

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> There's a big difference between a 'fence' and a 'wall'. With a fence, you

What about using lintels between foundation pads.
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