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Dealing with exposed tree roots

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It happens over time. That beautiful tree that is such an asset in the landscape, that provides wonderful shade in the best possible place, will have its roots growing up above the lawn.

These exposed roots can hamper mowing efforts and even be a walking hazard.

Tree roots anchor the plant and provide the means of taking up water and nutrients. Even though we talk of “deep-rooted” trees, most would be surprised at just how shallow much of a tree’s roots are. Even pines and pecans, known for their incredibly deep taproot, have many feeder roots just beneath the surface spreading in all directions.

It is these lateral, feeder roots that grow over the years that cause problems on the surface. While some species naturally are shallow, other factors exacerbate their exposure. Soil eroded from beneath a tree’s established roots will protrude greatly. Compacted soils also increase the likelihood for a tree to have protruding roots.

Most likely in much of our area, shallow soils will force tree roots to the surface. The limited depth of topsoil may encourage trees to have very visible root systems.

It is true that the best cure would be prevention. Moving forward in your landscape plans, select smaller trees and plant them at least four feet away from paved surfaces.

Many have tried to cut off the roots that are above ground. This is highly injurious to the tree and creates opportunity for insect and disease to enter the wound. Repeated pruning efforts will hamper a plants ability to grow effectively.

One simple fix is to add an inch or two of soil around the problem area and replant grass. This should be considered a short-term solution. As a tree continues to grow, the problematic roots will continue to grow in diameter and will eventually protrude from the soil again.

Another solution is to remove the grass from under the tree and keep it mulched. This may greatly reduce the amount of lawn in a smaller yard and will require repeat applications of mulch each year.

Perhaps the best and most permanent solution is to transform that area into a shade tolerant ground cover. Additions to that area include Asiatic jasmine, ferns or liriope (commonly called monkey grass).

The addition of a shade loving ground cover as mentioned above would certainly take some effort but will grow around the tree for years co-existing with the problematic roots quite nicely.

Shaniqua Davis is the county extension agent for agriculture and natural resources for Wood County. Her email address is shaniqua.davis@ag.tamu.edu

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