Ask a Question forum→What to do with exposed tree feeder roots

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Name: Zoë
Albuquerque, New Mexico (Zone 7b)
Region: New Mexico Herbs Salvias Composter Bee Lover
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nmoasis
Dec 17, 2020 10:15 PM CST
I'm lowering the soil level by several inches in an area near a Chinese pistachio and an ornamental pear. In doing so, I'm exposing a swath of feeder roots from both trees, which are both fully dormant. I won't be getting mulch down for awhile. I'm wondering if the best thing would be to trim off the exposed roots rather than allow them to dry or freeze or get damaged. Night temps are in the 20s.

Any thoughts or suggestions?

Thumb of 2020-12-18/nmoasis/ef5d78

For me, gardening is really just an excuse for playing in the dirt. Admittedly, plants are a satisfying by-product.
Name: John
Scott County, KY (Zone 5b)
You can't have too many viburnums..
Region: United States of America Region: Kentucky Farmer Cat Lover Birds Bee Lover
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ViburnumValley
Dec 17, 2020 11:58 PM CST
Certainly, cutting them off means their contribution to the parent plant will be permanently lost. Leaving them may mean death by dessication or freezing, but maybe not.

I wouldn't spend excess time cutting off little root tips that could be spent more productively, say, by sipping fine varietal wines.

You could perform an experiment, if you have intense interest in this subject. Prune off some in one area and note where that is. Leave others untouched. Mulch all the areas as you intend, when you are able.

Subsequently, take a look next year at the end of the growing season by raking back the mulch, and see what the relative densities of feeder roots are at the soil/mulch interface. That should tell you a whole lot about ultimate effects (or not) of actions you've taken - or didn't take.

If your ornamental pear is Pyrus calleryana, then you will not likely damage it no matter which course you take. I have less knowledge about Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) as it is quite uncommon here, but I think it is a more robust grower for your conditions.

Overall and in general, many tree species in landscape conditons grow annual feeder or moisture-absorbing roots near the soil surface, which do not live year to year. You can often find these in heavily mulched conditions which are kept evenly moist through irrigation. A mat of feeder roots grow into the mulch to absorb the available water, and survive well in the aerated conditions of the mulch. These roots don't survive through the winter conditions in zones which see freezing/frozen ground conditions as are normal in zones 6 and colder. The trees grow a new set the next growing season.

John
Name: Zoë
Albuquerque, New Mexico (Zone 7b)
Region: New Mexico Herbs Salvias Composter Bee Lover
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nmoasis
Dec 18, 2020 11:20 AM CST
Thanks for the info, John. I'm not sure these are annual feeder roots, but you've given me something to think about. I don't plan to this again; my current interest is simply to not kill these trees and fix this difficult spot I could have corrected more easily a few years ago if I had been a little less lazy. They had both been planted too deeply in a raised area before I moved here, so I just created wells at their bases to keep the soil off the trunks and amended and planted the surrounding bed. As a result the roots moved up into the amended soil where I was watering the plants and now are pretty dense—so I suspect these are NOT annual feeders. Now I'm attempting to reduce the elevation change as part of a larger landscaping project.

Btw, I hadn't planned to clip the root tips with manicure scissors. I was thinking more along the lines of skimming the surface with hedge clippers, a 10-minute job, max. Plenty of time left to enjoy a fine varietal! Hilarious!
For me, gardening is really just an excuse for playing in the dirt. Admittedly, plants are a satisfying by-product.
Name: John
Scott County, KY (Zone 5b)
You can't have too many viburnums..
Region: United States of America Region: Kentucky Farmer Cat Lover Birds Bee Lover
Butterflies Enjoys or suffers hot summers Enjoys or suffers cold winters Dog Lover Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge)
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ViburnumValley
Dec 20, 2020 11:15 AM CST
That would make a great video:

Pour a glass of wine

Bust out the hedge clippers

Lay waste to the superficial roots

Wipe brow

Go indulge in some fine sipping as reward for job well done...
John
Name: Zoë
Albuquerque, New Mexico (Zone 7b)
Region: New Mexico Herbs Salvias Composter Bee Lover
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nmoasis
Dec 20, 2020 12:36 PM CST
John, I like the way you think Hilarious!

Thumb of 2020-12-20/nmoasis/e9dd1e

Ha! you ever know what's going to appear when you're being silly in the garden. Look closely, top left:
Thumb of 2020-12-20/nmoasis/93254b Thumb of 2020-12-20/nmoasis/d9d6b8

For me, gardening is really just an excuse for playing in the dirt. Admittedly, plants are a satisfying by-product.

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