surface roots

Surface roots. Photo: Gerald Holmes, Strawberry Center, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo,

Updated: April 18, 2022

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 the 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, 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.
  • Where dense shade and surface roots make it impossible to grow grass successfully,¬†planting groundcover¬†or a mulch ring around the tree may be the best solution.
  • It is not advisable to remove surface roots.