Dealing With Exposed Tree Roots

January 12, 2023

Dealing With Exposed Tree Roots

Tree roots above ground or tree roots in your garden: they’re probably something you don’t think about until you either trip over them, damage your lawn mower, or (generally) notice that they’re taking over your yard. Given that trees can be the life force of your outdoor living space—and that roots are, in turn, a tree’s life force—we’re diving deep into why exposed roots can be problematic and what you can do about them.

Why Are Tree Roots An Issue?

Exposed tree roots are an issue for a number of reasons. First, they can quickly and easily become a safety hazard. As mentioned above, people can easily trip over them, even if they know the roots are there, and children running around in a yard may not see them.

Second, trees can die if their roots are damaged, because damage often cuts off access to water and nutrients. Bark wounds can also open the door to diseases and insects, which can quickly kill your tree. Trees can also die if the roots themselves are cut off or damaged.

Finally, exposed tree roots can easily destroy not just a yard’s appearance but also the equipment used to maintain the yard. And it’s not just lawn mowers—your weed-trimmers, bed edging devices, and other mechanical devices can suffer damage if they hit the right root at the wrong time.

How To Deal With Tree Roots Above Ground

Tree roots can end up growing above the ground for many reasons, whether it’s because of environmental conditions, human interference, or simply the species of tree. To successfully manage tree roots above the ground, you’ll want to choose between two of the following options:

  1. Cover the exposed roots with organic mulch. If you have a lawn struggling to grow beneath the tree, mulch can help kill the grass in that spot and protect the tree roots. Sprinkle the mulch in a nice, even circle under the tree’s crown. Just make sure to leave space between the mulch and the actual tree trunk, as this can cause tree damage (more on that below). 
  1. Loosen compacted soil. Compacted soil is one of the main causes of exposed tree roots, and it can lead to poor tree health in general. If you’re not savvy with yard work, you may want to hire a Tasker to loosen up the soil. Or if you’re good with an AirSpade, you can use this tool to loosen the soil around the tree. Then you’ll want to add compost to give the tree more nutrients.

While knowing what you can do about exposed tree roots above the ground is important, it’s almost just as important to know what not to do. Here’s a list of actions that you absolutely should avoid:

  • Paving over tree roots. This will suffocate and kill your tree roots, which in turn will kill your tree. This will also cause pavement placement to shift, turning that, too, into a tripping hazard. 
  • Burying roots in more soil. Once a tree is growing, you never want to change the soil levels around it too drastically. Tree roots are always looking for oxygen, and burying them in soil can be a great way to strain or kill them. 
  • Build a mulch volcano around your roots. Would you guess that this is one of the leading causes of tree death? Well, it is. It can trap moisture, rot your tree trunk, and cause it to topple over. When spreading mulch over your exposed roots, keep it away from the tree trunk, and spread it evenly.
  • Cut your tree roots. Tree roots never go dormant, so regardless of what they look like, don’t ever cut them! Like a poorly pruned branch, they’ll never recover, and your tree could die.
  • Disguise the roots under a new planting bed. Don’t ever plant anything or dig in the soil within the root zone of your tree. This can damage or kill your tree and will create more competition for water. 

How To Prevent Roots From Growing Above Ground

While you might be tempted to install root barriers around your tree, this is only a temporary fix for containing your roots. It can help in the short term, but it won’t fix roots that are already exposed. Digging will also loosen soil and make more space for water and oxygen, which may actually lure the tree roots closer. 

The best way to prevent tree roots from growing above the ground is to think ahead before you even plant your tree. Here are a few ways to do so:

  1. Pick the right spot for your tree. Always make sure there’s enough room for your tree to grow before you plant it. Otherwise, you may find yourself eventually landscaping around exposed tree roots.
  2. Choose the right tree species. Optimize the type of tree you’re planting for your soil type and garden. This can help you avoid the wrong kind of tree roots in your garden later on.
  3. Water your tree correctly. Roots follow water, so make sure the irrigation sinks down into the soil. 

Still stuck on those tree roots? Consider hiring a Tasker to help!


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