The Q&A Archives: Surface root ball

Question: We have several pistache and palo verde trees on a 3 acre site that have surface roots in a ball. Are these fatally flawed, or can they be made healthy?

Answer: Some trees have shallow root systems and other develop deeper root systems. Sometimes it's just a normal growth pattern; other times it indicates shallow watering practices or hardpan rather than permeable soil. Roots surface as they grow in diameter, forcing what was a thin, shallow root above the surface. They also surface as erosion washes away soil, exposing the roots. This exposes them to significant damage from lawnmowers, or they may simply be dangerous for foot traffic because you might trip on them. There is no way to stop roots from surfacing, unless it would be a matter of redirecting water causing soil erosion. The best solution is to add soil to the area beneath the tree where the surfacing roots are found. If you are covering a considerable portion of the area beneath the branch spread, about 2-3 inches of soil is all you should add the first year. More can be added next year if needed. If only small areas are to be covered, you can increase the amount of soil added the first year.

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