What to Do with Surface Tree Roots in Your Yard


Trees are amazing but they can come with quite a few issues, as well, such as those times when the roots break out of the ground and onto the surface.

What should you do about surface tree roots? If the tree root is in your yard, the best option for you would be to adapt to it instead of trying to remove it since the results would be less troublesome. The next best option would be to simply cover the root with extra earth and create something of a mound of dirt. Removing the roots should only be done as a last resort.

Having to deal with exposed tree roots can be troublesome but by simply changing your perspective, it can actually become something of an opportunity.

Why Exposed Tree Roots Can Be a Problem?

Even as we discuss the things that you can do with regards to the issue of exposed tree roots, one question that is worth asking is why such things can be a problem, to begin with? Why would such a natural part of a tree be a source of a headache for you? The answers can be numerous and would depend significantly on your priorities.

Before we go any further, though, it might help to understand the value of tree roots first so that you can get a better appreciation of the discussions that will follow. Simply put, the reason why tree roots are so important hinge on the fact that they:

·         Allow trees to draw nutrients from the soil

·         Gives the tree stability and strength

·         Anchors trees in case of flooding, landslides, and storms

·         Provides a conduit for grounding lightning strikes

·         Enables trees to survive despite things like forest fires

Now that we listed all of the merits of having tree roots, let’s take a look at the problems that can come up when these same roots decide to pop up to the surface. The table below should provide you with a notable explanation as to what these are:

ProblemsDetails
Structural IssuesIf the roots happen to sprout in a place where there is concrete or some other form of structural function, it could compromise that structure
Safety HazardsExposed tree roots can easily cause people to trip, which can then lead to injuries, especially when carrying heavy objects
Occasional ToxinsSome tree roots are actually toxic, which can pose an issue to anyone or anything that might come in contact with it, include pets and other plants
Design ObstacleCreating a landscape design for your yard can become more difficult if you have to incorporate the tree roots into the project instead of removing it
Lowering Property ValueDue to the issues that tree roots can pose, there are times when the value of a property can decrease due to the existence of exposed tree roots
Gardening HindranceWhen you have exposed tree roots, you need to keep your plants and flowers away from them because of how they hog all of the nutrients
Space ReductionBecause exposed tree roots can cover a wide area, they can leave less room for you to use for other projects and purposes
Contamination and InfectionsIn the event that the tree roots contract rot or diseases, this will effectively contaminate the immediate vicinity, thus rendering it unsuitable for planting

So, there you have it. Those are the main issues that people can have from exposed tree roots on their property. You might have noticed that not all of them are really that noticeable unless you really put some thought into the matter and unfortunately for most, not many do.

Whatever the case may be, it’s worth elaborating on what makes these issues significant enough for you to want to do something about it. Only then can you decide if you actually want to go through all of the efforts of having the tree removed along with the roots since this would be your only option after a certain point.

Structural Issues – When it comes to the main problems that trees roots are known to cause when they come up to the surface, structural issues would have to be at the top. These are basically where the roots burst through concrete, whether they are floors, streets, pavements, and even the side of buildings.

If tree roots are left to run amok, they can literally bring down entire houses, though it would admittedly take a few years or even decades for that to happen. However, even if the threats posed by roots don’t really go that far, you can still see just how much of a problem this kind of thing can be.

When you have something that could crack your building’s foundations, you would obviously want to remove it. However, what about if the tree is in your yard? If that is the case, then the threat that it poses isn’t really that big unless you choose to construct something like a gazebo.

Safety Hazards – Then we have the matter of safety hazards, which can have a crossover with the structural issue thing. This is basically where the exposed tree roots bring about certain results via a chain of events stemming from its simple existence. In the case of yard structures like an extended platform or a gazebo, for example, the tree roots can cause such things to collapse.

It would be a bit difficult to deal with those, as well, since you will essentially be facing a problem that can take years to manifest. Aside from that, there is also the simple danger of tripping on the roots, which is not a negligible hazard. Depending on the circumstance, it can even cause permanent injury or death.

Imagine children running around the yard at night and one of them has their foot caught by a root. They tumble, smash their faces against another exposed root and knock their teeth in. As far as injuries go, this is not even that serious.

Carrying something heavy and jagged is where things can get really interesting if you trip. Naturally, the safest thing to do would be to just walk around the exposed roots so that you don’t trip over them. However, people don’t always do the most sensible things, do they? In fact, they can be quite prone to laziness, which is how a lot of folks get hurt.

Occasional Toxins – Now we are getting to the really nefarious stuff, which comes in the form of toxins. These are basically those instances where you have a tree that has been there since you bought the house and you didn’t really look into it that much. However, once the issue of exposed roots came in, that was when the problems started.

You see, some tree roots have toxins as a defense mechanism. This comes in the form of the bark, the sap, or even the surrounding layers of gunk. Some roots also get infected, which is why they develop toxins, in the first place. You can never really tell unless you look into it specifically and unless you have some special interest in the tree, you likely won’t.

In any case, the threat of these toxins will only really come up if you have cause to take notice. For example, if your pet dog starts gnawing on the roots and it gets sick, then dies a few days later. There are also cases where you plant flowers, bushes, or even grass around the roots and they wither soon after.

As a matter of fact, even just simply judging the state of the grass that was already there surrounding the roots when you got the property can give you an idea of what you are dealing with. If there are patches that look like they are sick, this likely means that you have a toxic batch on your hands.

When this happens, you will likely have no other recourse than to have the tree removed altogether. Unfortunately, doing so will require you to expend a considerable amount of time, effort, and resources.

Design Obstacle – On a more superficial but still significant note, exposed tree roots do pose design challenges both for the present and future. If you are trying to do some landscape art with your yard, you will need to work around the roots if you are not willing to get rid of it. However, you can’t just take only its current form into account.

You will also need to think about how the rest of the roots that are still buried underneath the ground might affect your landscaping project a few years down the road. After all, they could emerge and wreck the concrete plots that you decided to build. Garden paths made of stone or bricks and even fountains will also need to be taken into consideration.

More than anything else, it is your ability to adapt to the needs of the landscaping project that will determine the viability of your decision to keep the roots. If you can’t think of a way to accommodate this part of the yard, you will have to make the decision. Do you get rid of the tree, which will cost you quite a bit of time and money, or do you keep your landscape design small and simple?

Lowered Property Value – The matter of how trees affect property value can actually fluctuate from place to place. However, one consistent factor is that trees with roots that remain underground are less likely to lower the home’s value than those with exposed roots. This is where the problem can really come in for a lot of people.

There is an implicit concept about how homes need to increase in value over time, regardless of whether the owners expect them to be sold or not. As such, anything that can pose a threat to that will need to be eliminated as soon as possible. Exposed tree roots are among the most obvious of these threats, which makes it rather simple to deal with, in theory.

However, not everyone can easily make the decision to get rid of trees since the red tape that you would have to jump through just for the privilege to actually get it done would be a nightmare. Still, it is what it is, and the soon it is dealt with, the better. The more roots are exposed; this can only mean that the stronger the grip of the tree becomes.

Gardening Hindrance – This is in connection with the design issue thing, but tree roots can also pose a problem when you are just trying to garden. By its nature, tree roots are extremely efficient in gathering nutrients from the soil. As such, you might not be surprised to know that they tend to hog all of the minerals from the ground, leaving very little for other plants.

If the tree’s roots have already grown to an extent that they have popped out of the ground to become exposed, this means that its grip on the soil and its resources is already solid. Planting anything close to its vicinity would, therefore, be a completely pointless thing to do because it would not leave much for those organisms to consume.

With this being the case, depending on how wide the area that the tree roots have covered is, your gardening options can become quite limited. Even if you forget about landscaping, for now, you can’t really escape the fact that anything you might plant will soon wither or will grow malnourished due to the roots.

At that point, you will have to make a choice. Do you keep the tree that is ultimately sapping the surroundings of nutrients so that your choices of plants to grow become visibly limited? Or do you choose to get rid of a grown tree just so you can grow more varieties of flowers, shrubs, and more?

On the one hand, getting rid of the tree might even give way for you being able to plant new trees and this time, they will be the kind that you actually want to care for. You will also be able to design as you would. However, in order for you to do so, you would need to be willing to make some considerable sacrifices.

Space Reduction – As already mentioned, the size and area covered by the roots can severely limit the amount of area you can have for gardening. However, yards can be used for things other than planting flowers and those will be affected, as well. If the roots have begun to spread through a quarter of the lot, for example, this leaves you with less space to build sheds and the like.

This problem becomes even worse when you think of how tree roots are not likely to follow a specific pattern or direction. As such, it is quite possible that the roots will actually be even more troublesome of they occupy an irregular patch of land. This will leave you even less space compared to if the roots had just been a rough square or circle.

Even if the roots that have become exposed are relatively small now, they can grow quite fast in due time. When that happens, any structure that you built without taking that into account could suffer. That gazebo you constructed two years ago might end up as a pile of junk before you know it. The effects can be even more devastating with more expensive projects.

Contamination and Infections – Finally, there is the issue of contaminations and infections, which can be quite a serious affair. There are cases where bugs or tiny harmful organisms infect the tree and make it sick, malnourished, or just withered. Such cases could then lead to the roots contracting rot, which would then be bad news for your yard.

If the root has contracted rot, there is a good chance that it will contaminate the soil. This then means that anything that you plant there might become infected and would get sick, then die. The only way for you to deal with that kind of issue would be to either completely cleanse the soil or to replace it entirely with a healthy batch.

Both solutions have their pros and cons. However, the one thing that is certain is that neither is particularly attractive. The best that you can really hope for when this happens is that whatever infected the tree will not target anything else that you plant in that area.

However, this is a vain home and you would be better offer just taking preemptive actions. You can make use of insecticides, herbicides, or fungicides in order to deal with the situation.

What Do You Do with Exposed Tree Roots?

Now that we have talked about all of the various troubles that tree roots pose, it’s time to talk about what you can actually do about them. The answers would depend on how far you are willing to go, what you want to do with your yard, and how much you really want to be rid of the roots. Starting with the first and easiest option, we can talk about just adapting to the roots.

This method basically entails that you accept that the roots are there to stay and that you will just have to come up with a creative way to accommodate it. The most obvious way to do this would be to plant at the edges of the yard, right by the fences. This will ensure that you leave as much space between whatever it is you are trying to grow and the roots.

Your second option is to simply cover the roots with dirt. This will create a layer of earth that will remove many of the dangers that the tree roots pose. However, you can rest assured that this solution is only temporary. You can’t really expect that the tree roots that broke out of the ground before won’t be able to do it again.

However, that solution will at least buy you some time. The third possible option for addressing this matter is to destroy the roots and there are actually ways for you to do this. However, it is not advisable, as we will discuss in a bit.

The final method available to you would be the complete removal of the tree. As you might have already surmised, this will involve a ton of work. The first sensible step is to cut down the tree itself so that there will be less mass for you to deal with. Depending on the size of the tree, this can prove to be quite disastrous.

After that, you might need the help of a vehicle to pull the roots out. Pickup trucks can do the job if given enough room. However, the most effective option here is to use a backhoe or a bulldozer. As you might imagine, though, the latter options will be quite the hassle to pull off.

Can You Remove Surface Tree Roots?

Removing surface tree roots can actually be done if you are prepared to get rid of the entire tree, altogether. There is any number of options available to you, from burning it out to pull it using vehicles. Each option comes with its own pros and cons, and it is up to you to decide if they are worth the effort.

However, as far as keeping the tree alive while getting rid of the roots go, this is a bad idea. In the first place, the roots are responsible for keeping the tree standing. If you get rid of the surface roots and the ones underground die as a result, the tree might topple over the next time there is a storm with some strong winds.

It would actually be great if this was the only issue. What if the roots contract rot because of what you did? This would then lead to the contamination of the entire area that the tree roots cover. So, if you really want to get rid of the roots, you need to get rid of the tree.

Related Questions

Can Vinegar Kill Tree Roots?

Yes, but it will only work if the tree has already been cut down. By pouring pure vinegar into a spray container and then coating all the sprouts with the solution, the sprouts and leaves will slowly die. Without the leaves to provide the roots with nutrients, it will eventually wither on its own.

How Much Soil Can You Put Around a Tree?

You should cover only what is necessary if you are planning on dumping dirt around a tree. Two or three inches would be preferable, though, it would be ideal if you didn’t have to do this at all. If absolutely necessary, though, you can just cover the exposed roots with soil that sandy and easy to drain.

What Makes Tree Roots Come to the Surface?

There are actually a lot of reasons why tree roots decide to ruin your life by coming up to the surface. One of the most prevalent is how some trees just have roots that naturally pop out of the ground. It’s not due to the environment or anything. It’s just how these trees are and the only thing you can do about it is to either leave it alone or get rid of the tree.

There is also the possibility that the soil is a bad fit for the tree. It is not the right kind that supports the growth of the roots underground, so the tendrils seek other environments in order to flourish. If this happens, you can try to get rid of the surface roots, dig out the soil, and then replace it with ones that are not too full of clay.

How to Make Use of Exposed Tree Roots?

If you are planning on simply accommodating the tree roots that have decided to come up to the surface, there are actually quite a few options available to you. One is to simply make it an ornament in your dynamic landscaping project that can change in due course. Using potted plants would be ideal here since you can just move them all over the place if needed.

You can also paint the roots with different colors to add more vibrancy to your garden. If the little buggers are going to cause you a headache anyway, you might as well get some use out of them. Then there is the option of turn the roots into supports for a structure.

A treehouse would actually benefit from it because as the roots get bigger, the support for the structure gets stronger. Of course, you can only do this if you actually take this particular matter into consideration.

Whatever the case may be, you need to remember that what you are trying to accomplish is to live with the roots instead of getting rid of them. Go nuts and see how far your imagination can take you in this endeavor. 

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