The Q&A Archives: Tree Roots and soil

Question: Last year I purchased a older home that was a foreclosure and that had been vacant for 16 months. There are two large trees in my front yard--maple and cottonwood. Several large roots have surfaced and caused many bare spots in the grass. My questions: 1) Can these roots be cut and removed with out damaging the trees? 2) What type of grass will grow around these roots? 3)I would like to save the trees, but I want grass in my front do I replenish the soil, take good care of the trees, and what type of grass should I plant? Thank you.

Answer: Although sometimes unsightly, surface roots from maples and cottonwoods are a normal occurance. These roots are generally necessary for the trees' health and are usually left alone. I wouldn't want to recommend removing them but instead trying to work your landscape around them. If you bury the roots with additional soil, you could suffocate them and the trees will suffer. Likewise with planting grass. The area under large trees is difficult for lawn to grow. There's usually too much shade, and the tree roots will compete for moisture and nutrients which typically kills the grass. I'd recommend planting a shade tolerant, dry soil tolerant groundcover instead of grass. Something well behaved such as vinca minor will cover the protruding roots, remain green all year around, won't mind sharing water and nutrients with the trees, and will provide seasonal flowers. Pachysandra is another groundcover to consider. Your local nursery may have other choices. Look for a ground cover that is not invasive and one that will tolerate dry shade. In no time at all you'll get your neglected yard back into shape. Best wishes with your project!

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