University of Maryland Extension

Surface Roots - Trees and Shrubs

surface roots

Back to Common Problems - Trees and Shrubs

Tree roots growing at or slightly above the soil surface are called surface roots. Surface roots can make it difficult to mow the lawn or grow grass. When trees and grass compete for moisture and nutrients, the tree roots usually win. Grass growing over or near surface roots may become thin and paler green than the surrounding lawn. Many tree species have a shallow root system and are prone to surface roots. Tree species prone to surface roots are Maple sps., Sycamore, Willow oak, Pin oak, Lindens, and Black walnut. Any tree can develop surface roots in heavy, compacted soil, wet soils, or as a result of erosion.

If surface roots develop as a result of erosion, adding soil and planting grass seed may help. Because these roots require oxygen, no more than 1-2" of soil should be added around the root system. Severely eroded areas may need more to raise the soil to its original level. If surface roots are not due to erosion, adding soil is only a short-term solution. The tree may develop new roots in the additional soil, causing the new lawn to die. Where dense shade and surface roots make it impossible to grow grass successfully, planting groundcover may be the best solution. It is not advisable to remove surface roots.

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