The Q&A Archives: Magnolia Rootball And Exposed Roots

Question: Yesterday I planted a 6' tall Timeless Beauty Evergreen Magnolia x 'Monland", PP#6178. The location is in the lawn on the South side of the house (sunny) that frequently gets strong south west winds. Since about 3' of the top soil was removed at this location, when the plot was leveled, the substrate, below about 1.5' is quite rocky. I removed most of the rocks from the planting hole that was about 3 times as wide as the container and about 2' deep. After placing the tree I filled the surrounding void space with slightly modified soil (I used 2 cu ft. of garden soil that I bought in a bag).

The tree was heavily root bound which I loosened and spread the roots as best I could without removimg too much of the soil. Th eroot ball was a ground level. There are several fine roots emanating horizontally from the root ball and currently lie almost at ground level. I do not want these roots to eventually uplift the lawn. My question relates to these roots and what I should do with them. I am inclined to cut them off so that root development first occurs downward, then out. Is that a harmless act, or should these roots be covered up with roughly a half-inch of soil?

I am impressed by your website.

Robbie Biyani

Answer: First of all, glad you like our website! About your magnolia - it's always best to plant a new tree or shrub so that it's at the same soil level as it was in the pot. Magnolias have lots of surface roots, so it's not unusual to see them appear on top of the ground, especially from established trees. Because of the shallow root system, it's best not to grow anything under magnolia trees. So, for the health of your tree, try to keep grass from growing under the canopy of the tree, and keep it well away from the trunk. Eventually your magnolia will cast dense shade and keep grass and other plants from growing beneath it. Your plan to cut away the small roots will only encourage the development of additional surface roots. It's best to leave these roots alone and simply allow your tree to become firmly established in its new location, surface roots and all. Enjoy your new tree!

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