Can main line drain cleaner kill a tree?

Ok... so, my house was having some really disgusting sewer problems where ... STUFF was backing up into the basement. I was pretty sure the main line plumbing from the house to the sewer was clogged up. The same thing happened Xmas Eve last year and my landlord had some plumbers come over to snake it out. One of the plumbers said that the next time this happened to get a main line cleaner and pour it down the drain. So... I did that this past Saturday and no more problems and no more STUFF coming back up the pipe.

Fast forward to tonight and I'm sitting on the front porch looking around. Our neighborhood has tree lawns by the road and the tree in front of our house is missing about 90% all of its leaves. The other trees in our neighborhood are consistently missing about 50% of their leaves. My wife chimed in... "You killed the tree, didn't you..." and I'm seriously wondering if I did. It's not a young tree at all, pretty well developed. But the amount of leaves missing is a rather huge anomaly and I'm really kind of sad. That tree's been a pretty big part of our life here and I am really, really hoping its a fluke and that it blooms again this spring.

So yeah, every tree is different... but can that stuff really do that much damage with a single use? Did I kill our tree?

Man, if it did that to the tree what's your groundwater look like?

It's not uncommon for sewer lines to leak. However you'd have to have pretty sizeable leak for drain cleaner to kill and entire tree.

That said, full grown trees can be absurdly sensitive and sometimes just disturbing the soil under the drip line is enough to kill them.

Is it possible? Yes.

But: keep in mind that we've had a really weird cycle of drought and flood this year (at least in Toledo a little west, but I think our weather is comparable). All of our plants have been really weird this year, from trees down to the peppers, tomatoes, and even the grass.

Tree lawn trees are at a disadvantage. They have to compete with the sidewalk and the road. They tend to do poorly compared to other trees. Our red oak has not done particularly well this year, but it's not the first time.

Makes me wonder if your drain problems aren't tree roots growing into the pipe and blocking it. Had that happen here.

LtWarhound wrote:

Makes me wonder if your drain problems aren't tree roots growing into the pipe and blocking it. Had that happen here.

That was my first thought. If it's an older house it might be using old clay pipes for it's main drainage therefore the blockage is likely invasive roots. Drain cleaner would easily damage or kill a tree when coming into direct contact with the root system.

Dead trees make me sad. In my neighbourhood we have boatloads of trees. During the summer its possible to walk 10 blocks and never see the sky except at intersections.

Two cherry trees died this year behind my house. No obvious cause, they get old, it happens I guess. I'm going to miss the pink blossoms. The city will eventually replace them but a sapling planted now will never the same size for another 50+ years.

LightBender wrote:
LtWarhound wrote:

Makes me wonder if your drain problems aren't tree roots growing into the pipe and blocking it. Had that happen here.

That was my first thought. If it's an older house it might be using old clay pipes for it's main drainage therefore the blockage is likely invasive roots. Drain cleaner would easily damage or kill a tree when coming into direct contact with the root system.

Does sound pretty plausible.

Isn't there a product out there for just that, killing roots in contact with the product (roots in the drain-line), but doesn't totally kill the rest of the tree?

We ran into this a couple of years back too when we were new home owners. Probably no maintenance from the previous owners.

Yes, there is drain line root destroyer made of copper sulfate pellets that you pour into your toilet and flush. It's not targeting the tree, just fine root growth as it invades your drain line.

I'm not sure if they are all similar but the brand we use is bright blue and would almost certainly look like candy to a child's eyes (EXCEPT ITS POISON, so it has to be handled and stored in a safe place.)

Once flushed, the pellets end up sitting in your drain line and melting, which will deliver poison to the roots in the line. I had heard that slightly larger grain ones are better than really fine ones, because the larger ones will sit in the drain line longer and melt rather than being flushed through the line too quickly before they can work. It may all be marketing spin though.

Still, IF the problem is already bad enough that a mass of the roots is blocking your main line, then a dead root blocking your drain line will have the same effect as a live one blocking your drain line. The pellets are meant for regular maintence (i.e. every six months) to keep fine roots under control before they grow.

And IF you are getting sewage backed into your house, I'd think you really need to call someone for service asap to get it taken care of, because sewage, even your own, is downright nasty, dangerous and damaging.

We contacted a Roto Rooter like company and had them run a special heavy duty snake through our drain line. Sometimes they will remove a toilet to run the snake, but they can also do it from the exhaust on the roof or the cleanout near the street. In our case, he ran it towards our house from the cleanout on our front lawn. It was winter, so I didnt want him on the roof and this method allowed us to avoid removal/re-seating of the toilet since I knew where the cleanout was (this is key). The snake they run has a chopper on the end and basically breaks up the root blockage. I remember I was with him and could hear it hit the roots and break through them. It was too big a problem for poison to take care of at that point.

Its a common service. For folks where this is a constant problem, they offer service contracts. Upon completion they will also offer to sell you a small maintenance supply of the copper sulfate pellets. I believe you can buy it at home improvement stores also.

Since the spammer revived my thread... Quick update, the tree is fine and the city sent a crew out to fix the pipes at the street (it had collapsed in). So... everything's good now.

Isn't it Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment?

Edit: *facepalm* skimmed before reading.