Surface Roots Under Trees

Trees are great – they produce shade, create framing for a house or building, provide shelter for songbirds, slow down the wind and snow and so many other benefits…but they can create a few problems, one of which is surface roots.


Surface roots are not to be taken lightly – they create a tripping hazard, get in the way of bocce and croquet games and wreak havoc on lawn mowers.  So, what should be done with them?  Here are some suggestions:


  1. Change the vegetation around them. Instead of turfgrass, which usually struggles under trees anyway, rip out the turf and replace it with a shady groundcover.  This will reduce the tripping, mowing and recreational issues.
  2. Apply mulch over them. About an inch is the proper amount.  More than that can cause a softening of the tree roots.   It can be placed right over the top of the weak turf, and reduce the same issues as in solution #1, plus the additional advantage of avoiding injury to the tree roots from the mower.
  3. Create a pathway between them. The idea is to place pavers or pieces of flagstone to make a walkway that is safe to trod upon instead of allowing the trip hazard to remain.



Regardless of which option is chosen, it’s important to revisit the area regularly and evaluate the status and make adjustments as necessary.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
John Fech on EmailJohn Fech on Twitter

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.