A healthy root system is vital to the growth and longevity of all types of plants, especially trees. In addition to the intake of air, water, and vital nutrients through the soil, tree roots also help anchor the plant into the ground, and they will continue to deepen and spread laterally below the ground as the tree matures. While most roots typically lie between 12 and 18 inches below the ground’s surface, a number of factors may contribute to exposed tree roots which can pose a risk to your lawn care equipment and can be a tripping hazard. Read more to learn how to fix exposed tree roots and eliminate these pitfalls from your local lawn care company, By the Blade KC.

What causes tree roots to become exposed?

Exposed tree roots give the illusion that they have almost burst through the soil, when in reality it is far more likely that the soil once covered them and has worn away over time. Deep root feeding can help reduce erosion and promote a healthy root system and should be considered a necessary preventative measure. Some common causes of root exposure are as follows:

  • A lack of structure. Trees that have large canopies provide a shady spot to rest but may also block the sun from reaching the grass at the base of the trunk. If the grass dies and there is nothing left to anchor the soil, it may continue to erode until the roots are exposed.
  • High foot traffic. Foot traffic may compact and wear away the soil to reveal the roots below.
  • Wind, rain, and runoff may contribute to the lack of soil in places both sloped and flat.
  • Limited space. In urban areas especially, where trees may be planted next to a roadway or sidewalk, tree roots may be forced upwards due to a lack of space.
  • Soil quality. Compacted or clay-based soil can restrict the flow of oxygen and moisture. This forces the roots to head above ground in order for the tree to survive.

The Do’s and Don’ts

In an effort to reverse the effects of erosion you may be tempted to add more soil around the base of the tree, aiming to cover up the exposed roots. While this may provide a temporary solution, it can cause further damage over time by suffocating the roots or failing to resolve the underlying issue. Here are some other options:

Don’t Remove Exposed Tree Roots

Cutting or pruning tree roots is a risky venture that can actually injure or kill the tree if done incorrectly. In addition to depriving the tree of nutrients and water, pruning can cause the tree to become unstable causing it to fall over in stormy conditions.

Don’t Grow New Grass

While it is always possible to cultivate a new layer of grass, it can take time to become established. If a lack of sunlight is the issue causing the exposed roots, the new grass may also die.

Do Add a Layer of Mulch

This is most often the best option, and it’s also the easiest. Carefully remove any remaining grass around the base of the tree and replace it with a thick layer of mulch. This will cushion and insulate the roots, discourage pedestrian traffic, and eliminate the need for mowing.