We have several large shade trees in our yard. Around the trees, numerous
small thin roots are exposed. They are from pencil-thickness to a couple of
inches, and they tend to come up, lay flat over the ground (or slightly
elevated from the ground) for 5-10 inches, then go back down. This makes it
very difficult to mow the lawn (grass is growing between the roots).
Can someone tell me the feasibility of any of these ideas:
1. Removing the exposed roots. If so, how?
2. Re-sodding. Would this be terribly expensive? Would I have to do it to
the whole lawn, or just the rooty areas?
3. Giving up that part of the lawn and planting big circles of wildflowers
around the trees.
4. Anything I am missing?
Thanks in advance.
With the surface roots you describe, it sounds like they could be maple
#1: Don't cut or otherwise injure the roots.
#2: If the roots look more like the bark on the tree and aren't creamy
white in-ground roots, do not cover them with sod or soil. They need to be
exposed or they will rot and eventually kill the tree. It may take 20 or
more years, but it will rot the roots and kill the tree.
#3: Do not plant under the tree, as you will most likely have to add soil
to do so.
#4: Your best bet is to remove the existing soil/grass over the roots so
they can "breathe", and replace with 2" of bark mulch of your choice. Just
be sure to keep the mulch 2-3" away from the trunk of the tree. This is the
easiest solution in terms of cutting the lawn without whacking the roots,
and far better for the tree in the long run. The University of Wisconsin
has an InfoSource message on surface roots at:
Hope this helps!
Suzy in Wisconsin
There isn't much you can do. The tree will most likely suck up all the
water and flowers won't grow and they will be in the shade of the tree
anyhow and if you flood them with water it would probably kill the tree.
Travis in Shoreline (just North of Seattle) Washington
USDA Zone 8b
You can buy ferns in liners or 1 gallon containers and plant them in between
the roots. Forget about sod or wildflowers. There's not enough sun for
flowers and the trees will use up most of the available water and nutrients.
The ferns have the best chance of survival.
Not a whole lot you can do. You didn't state what kind of trees you
have. Some trees have tendencies to grow surface roots, such as
willow. Frequent shallow watering can cause this too. It would be
better to remove the tree than damage the tree by cutting the roots.
I suggest a circular layer of organic mulch, mushroom compost is my
favorite. You can plant a shade garden--impatients, pachysandra,
I second the call for mulch. A layer 3" thick over the entire root
zone would be ideal, but you'll probably want to limit yourself to the
area adjacent to the trunk and a few feet outward. Just don't heap
the mulch against the trunk--the trunk flares should be visible and
able to breathe/dry out between rain/irrigation.
This solves your problem because you won't need to mow the area
anymore, you won't be struggling to get grass to grow in heavy shade,
and you won't see the roots.
It also benefits the tree because you won't be mowing there anymore,
you won't be tempted to hit the tree with a weedeater, and the soil
will be improved. When the material decomposes, it will invigorate
the soil ecosystem, making nutrients more available to the tree.
Also, your soil will gradually become less compacted and less prone to
drought, allowing deeper roots and possibly reducing the number of new
Happy roots make happy trees!
ISA Certified Arborist
Correct, a willow is the main culprit, though there are a few other trees
that I cannot readily identify.
Thanks, I may consider this. It is impossible to mow there, and the kids
keep tripping over the roots when they play, so it might be best to plant
something shade-loving and just forget about grass.
Actually, if you had read carefully, my problem is not how to grow grass
under trees; it is what to do about the exposed roots. The grass is growing
wonderfully, even up between the roots, as I clearly said in my post. The
roots make it hard to mow, so the grass looks scraggly there. Plus, the
kids sometimes trip over the roots while running. I was asking if I could
remove the roots to allow my lawn to be mowed, or if it might be better to
plant something else there.
If you have one or two roots, an axe or a chain-saw will suffice to get it
below ground level. If you have a large stump (or more than one), rent a
stump grinder from almost any tool-rental location. They're not that hard to
use, and not that expensive.
I've done all of the above at one time or another.
No reason why not. Good exercise. How much your lawn gets hacked up depends
on how much care you take peeling back the turf and digging out / exposing
the root. Cutting roots with chainsaws is hard on the chain, so have a spare
chain or a file handy.
I believe that if your tree is putting roots above ground level that it is
probably the type of tree that will continue doing this. Even if you cut
the existing roots, you will probably have the same problem again in a few
Many trees are banned from streetside planting because their roots are
aggressive and on the surface and will raise up sidewalks and create a trip
hazard. I am late to this discussion so I don't know what type of tree you
have. You may want to talk to your local nursery and find a more suitable
type to grow next to your lawn area.
Always remember that trees are living things. Their roots are very
important to them. Use caution and common sense when removing roots. If
you remove 30% of the roots, you will need to remove 30% of the branches or
you risk killing the tree. Good luck.
Once again, this is a myth. The tree needs those branches to produce
energy to recover from the root damage. Never remove a live tree
branch without a good reason.
Meanwhile, removing 30% of roots or branches is stretching the limits
of what the tree can tolerate. Especially if the roots are very large
(say, 2" diam or larger, depending on trunk diam) or very close to the
I reiterate, the solution is to add mulch on top of the roots.
ISA Certified Arborist
Calling it a myth is a little arrogant.
While I bow to your professional expertise, there is scientific evidence to
support both claims.
My tree experience has been mostly with bonsai where it is accepted practice
to significantly trim the tree roots to keep the plant in a dwarf form--and
this, in turn, requires an equal trimming of the foliage or it is very
likely the plant will die. I agree that in landscape trees where you are
removing only a few roots there is usually not a need to trim the branches.
However, if you are removing significant roots, even from a landscape tree,
I'm sure you will agree that the drought stress may be too much for a tree
to recover and the tree will die. I have found, through personal
experience, that trimming the branches of a tree that has been
root-compromised is an excellent way to prevent death. I am not the only
person who feels this way; many professional horticulturists agree with this
In the future, I would appreciate it if you disagreed politely instead of
throwing around your "ISA Certified Arborist" as if nobody else could
possibly have anything of substance to say. I have met many professional
horticulturists who were dead wrong about many issues, mostly because they
were following old beliefs and not keeping current with the science.
I'm sorry if you felt this was rude or arrogant. In a discussion, I
generally feel free to add my opinion as I see fit. If you disagree,
you are obviously able to say so.
A few decades ago, arborists were taught that branches should be
removed flush to the trunk and all wounds should be sealed, among
other now discredited notions. I may be wrong. Surely we all know
that's the chance you take when you get info from Usenet.
I add my CA credential to posts about trees to let people know I have
studied research, attended seminars, and otherwise educated myself
about trees. I do not claim that makes me infallible, but I do
believe I am more reliable when it comes to trees than Farmer Joe who
tops trees cuz his daddy did. I also include my sig with a link to
the ISA's consumer info site, where you can check up on me if you care
to (though I don't think this specific question is addressed there).
I do not know what your level of expertise is, nor do I discount your
oipinions out of hand, but I have been taught that this "take off
branches to compensate for root loss" thing is a myth. Your comments
about bonsai are intriguing and I am rethinking the whole thing in
light of them, but I still think landscape trees are a whole nuther
world. I'm inclined to think if you remove enough roots to cause this
sort of response in a landscape tree, you're looking at trouble
regardless of what you do to the branches. I'm not quite willing to
retract my statements yet, but I apologize if you felt I was
suggesting you had nothing of value to say. Stay tuned.
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