Q: I have a major problem with tree roots getting into the sewer line. What do you suggest, short of cutting down my neighbor's trees?

— Frank, Piscataway, N.J.

A: Roger Cook replies: Tree roots are naturally attracted to any moisture in the soil, so there may be a hole or crack in the pipe that the roots found, and that's how they entered the pipe. If so, the pipe will have to be repaired or replaced by a plumber to solve the problem.

To prevent a problem like this from coming back, consider installing root barriers made of plastic. This will physically stop roots from penetrating pipes, or lifting concrete sidewalks or toppling retaining walls, for that matter. There's quite a bit of work involved, however. You'd have to dig a trench down 3 to 4 feet to install the barrier along the length of the pipe. If the tree's trunk is close to the trench, though, any roots you cut in the process can compromise the stability or health of the tree. Consult a certified arborist before cutting any roots to make sure there won't be a problem.

If it turns out that a root barrier won't work, I'd approach your neighbor (in a neighborly fashion) and see if he'd be interested in splitting the cost of either removing the offending trees or getting regular visits from a drain-service pro.
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