Surface roots causing a conundrum?

Thu. Aug. 3, 2017

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Surface roots causing a 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.

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.

Several years ago, I stopped by a new friend’s house to help her choose some new plants for her landscape. She eagerly showed me how she’d covered up those irritating alien-arm surface roots of her mature trees with lots more soil and started a planting bed. Uh Oh, my dilemma was, how do I tell my new friend there’s a problem with this picture? I decided it’s like taking off a band-aid, sometimes it’s best to just rip it off quickly. So I told her: there are a couple of things wrong here, covering up those surface roots with soil and then trying to plant on top of them. Those roots are important to the overall health of your 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.

Notice how the mulch is properly placed.  It is NOT piled like a volcano!  You could also use pea gravel or even place permeable pavers within the surface root spaces, if you can find the right fit.

Yikes – the only solution here is mulch

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

Lamium ‘Orchid Frost’

The tree below has lamium, lady’s mantle and heuchera.  There are many varieties of lamium and heuchera.