Surface root conundrum

Fri. Aug. 2, 2019

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Surface root conundrum

Surface roots of trees can be a real pain in the patoot when trying to mow!  I know…  but there are some real DON’TS when it comes to making your mowing life easier.  While I’m  lucky with the yard I have now, I still have a Hackberry that’s not easy to mow around but those roots are actually a GOOD SIGN for your tree.

hackberry surface root

In a previous residence, I had Silver Maples, they are notorious for large surface roots as they require more oxygen.  The smart thing to do is to consider the issue BEFORE it’s a problem….

  • Keep all trees at least 10 feet from home foundations, driveways, and utilities. Double that distance or more for particularly invasive species, especially larger varieties.
  • Plant all trees away from in-ground pools and their water lines. Trees seek water and will not hesitate to invade lines or snake under even the most perfectly installed pools.
  • Plant trees with shallow roots some distance away from gardens and with shade areas in mind.

However, that’s not what I’m talking about today!  You may have the problem NOW.

I see this over and over in every neighborhood. People cover those alien arm roots with soil and essentially spell the future death of the tree.

When you cover them with soil, you’re taking away needed oxygen to the plant and those roots that don’t die will work their way back up to the surface again. Those tree roots may also compete with your new plants for nutrients. If you’re having a problem mowing around those massive surface roots, don’t get out the axe, get some mulch.

A 2 to 3 inch layer of wood chips, leaves or cocoa bean shells is perfect to keep the grass or weeds tolerable while maintaining the health of your tree. You can place landscape fabric down but I don’t recommend plastic. You could plant perennial groundcovers in between the roots.

mulching surface roots the right way
Yikes – the only solution here is mulch or … let it be and trim around

Under plantings around some trees is possible, such as the case of my Hackberry.  Lamium and ginger are 2 groundcovers for shaded areas, while ajuga will handle some sun. The roots of the groundcovers won’t be enough to interfere with your trees roots.

Wild ginger around a tree
Wild ginger
lamium surrounding the tree