The Q&A Archives: Choosing a Shade Tree

Question: I am looking for a large shade tree for the middle of my front yard. Can you recommend one that doesn't have a lot of surface roots? I am from the east coast originally, and like maples and oaks. I am also considering a sweet gum.

Answer: I wish I could recommend large shade trees that wouldn't eventually produce large surface roots, but the large roots near the trunk of older trees often rise above the soil level. This is the result of them growing in diameter over time. A small root, say "pencil-sized," growing a couple of inches beneath the surface goes unnoticed for years, but as that root expands in diameter it naturally pushes part of itself above the surface. Sometimes erosion from rainwater runoff contributes to root exposure. This does not hurt the tree, but can pose a problem when the area is covered with turf and needs to be mowed.

You can add a couple of inches of soil once or twice a year, spreading it evenly over the area when roots begin to surface. This will fix the problem enough so that you can easily mow over the area without damaging roots or the mower.

As for shade tree recommendations, maple, oak, fruitless mulberry, avocado or Catalpa are great choices for your growing region. Local nurseries offer varieties of species that are best suited to your area.

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