The Q&A Archives: Exposed Maple Tree Roots

Question: We have a mature maple tree about 10 feet from our deck. The roots have come to the surface of the ground and are to the point when we step off of the deck they can easily be tripped over in some areas. The shade is so dense that grass is dying due to lack of sunlight and it is turning into a muddy dangerous mess. I have been told that maple tree roots (main ones) grow straight down, and the exposed roots are just very large suckers and can be cut out without damage to the tree. Any suggestions?

Answer: If your maple is a silver maple (Acer saccharinum), then shallow root growth is normal. There's risk of severe damage to the tree if you cut those roots. You mention another problem: the lawn is dying due to excess shade, and is a muddy. It sounds like there may be a drainage problem if the yard is muddy and grass is dying. There are species of grass that are shade-tolerant, but if there is indeed a drainage problem, (which can also make roots more prone to surface so they can "breathe"), that'll need attention first. Then you can bring spread a couple inches of topsoil over the affected area and seed with a shade tolerant fine fescue turfgrass. If a couple of inches won't cover the exposed roots, then add a more soil next year as neccessary. Before you invest a lot of time, effort and money, first consult a local landscaper or arborist. Best of luck to you!

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