Getting to the Root of the Problem
When tree roots show through surface soil, knowing what actions you can take—and which ones you should avoid—can be critical to the life of your tree.
Exposed tree roots can be beautiful and natural-looking, but sometimes they’re a nuisance. They can pose a tripping hazard and be difficult to landscape and mow around, and surface roots can damage sidewalks, driveways, and foundations.
It’s understandable that the first instinct for many people is to find a way to get rid of them, but unless they are causing serious damage, destroying exposed roots is never a good idea.
So why do roots show above ground?
Exposed roots can be the result of perfectly healthy tree growth, particularly in shallow-rooted trees (i.e. maples, aspens, poplars, beeches, and pin oak trees); other times, they are nature’s way of adapting to a lack of oxygen or less-than-ideal soil quality. In any case, these roots are part of the tree’s integral support system.
Here are the most common reasons your roots may be showing above ground:
- Your tree is naturally shallow-rooted. Some trees tend to grow roots closer to the surface, and that’s just what they do.
- Poor soil quality. Most trees grow best in soil that allows for proper drainage. Unfortunately, much of our soil in Arkansas contains a significant amount of clay. Water and oxygen can’t seep through clay-filled or compact soils, so roots are forced to grow near the surface.
- Your trees are old. Many trees live to be over a century old. Even trees with deep root systems can become problematic, simply because, over time, roots grow massive in size. Eventually, these roots can emerge through the topsoil.
- Your roots are in competition for nutrients. When trees are planted too closely together, they must do what it takes to survive. Often, that involves expanding their root systems anywhere they can—including to the surface—to obtain the nutrients they need.
How to Treat Exposed Roots
There is no easy fix when it comes to treating exposed tree roots, but there are remedies that may help. Knowing what to do—and what not to do—is the first step.
- Don’t cut roots. Large surface roots are likely connected to smaller roots that provide necessary nutrients to keep your tree healthy. Cutting them cuts off a much-needed source of nutrients and oxygen. Plus, slicing into roots give insects and diseases easy access to your tree and can affect its structural integrity. You may rid your yard of an inconvenience or minor hazard, but you’ll have a much bigger issue if your tree topples in high winds or a storm, or due to disease, infestation, or instability.
- Be mindful of what you plant, and where you plant it. There is more to choosing a tree than simply its beauty. Before you grab a shovel, take time to determine what kind of soil conditions you’re working with (i.e. Is there good drainage?) and whether or not shallow root systems will be an issue. You may want to choose a tree with deep roots (oak, yellowwood, or blue atlas cedar), or a smaller tree that won’t need to spread out as much, such as Japanese maple, dogwood, or magnolia.
- Use mulch to cover exposed roots. Tree roots need oxygen, so piling heavy soil or concrete (which never works) over the top of them can do more harm than good. Wood chips or compost mixed with equal parts of high-quality soil provide a good option when it comes to covering up exposed roots. Never cover them more than four inches deep, and avoid packing. In late summer, you can plant shade-tolerant ground cover or grass, or even moss to keep the area green and beautiful. You can repeat this process the following year if needed, but not sooner.
- Seek help from the pros. Capital City Tree Services can help you preserve the beauty and enjoyment of your landscape. When exposed tree roots are simply not an option, we are licensed and insured to safely remove trees and stumps. We can provide you with a fresh canvas so that you can reimagine your space in a way that serves you, and nature, best.