Tree roots typically grow within the first 18 inches of soil. This may come as quite a shock to some individuals, as the size of some trees almost make this a mind boggling fact. It would seem, especially with larger trees, that more depth would be required of the roots for much needed stability. However, this is typically not the case.

Sinker roots typically grow down into the ground and provide anchoring, and lateral roots grow horizontally and function as the lifeline of the tree. It is the lateral roots that are responsible for the provision of water, nutrients, and oxygen.

Occasionally lateral roots can become exposed. These are sometimes referred to as surface roots. This may happen for several reasons. Perhaps the most common reason for this is erosion, or the gradual removal of the soil that once covered the roots. Erosion results from weather conditions, such as heavy rainfall or winds, soil compaction, and the natural growth of the tree. For instance, as the lateral roots grow in strength and circumference, this causes the soil to wear away. Surface roots may also become such because the tree is trying to access more of what may be lacking, such as sunlight or oxygen, to ensure its survival.

Exposed roots have the potential to cause any number of problems.

When roots, including lateral roots, become exposed and are less secure in the ground, there is more potential for a tree to become windblown in high winds. Toppled trees may cause damage to homes, vehicles, power lines, or other property. It would likely require professional assistance to remove a toppled tree with the utmost care in order to avoid other damages in the process. Contact an Austin tree trimming specialist for assistance in such an instance.

Exposed roots also risk being damaged by lawn mowers, edgers, or other lawn care equipment. Over time, repeated damage to the roots in such a manner may weaken the tree or even kill it. This may result from the roots’ inability to continue nourishing the tree or from insect-induced diseases, such as oak wilt.

So what, then, is the best way to deal with exposed roots?

Most research recommends that it is best to use mulch as a cover. The organic materials contained within mulch that breakdown over time only serve to provide continued nourishment to the tree while, dually, providing a cover for the exposed roots.

Attempting to replant grass in the eroded area would likely be unsuccessful, as the any re-growth is almost certain to meet the same fate as that which previously grew there.

The addition of soil is also not recommended. Frequently, those with the best of intentions add so much soil that the exposed roots are no longer able to obtain sufficient amounts of oxygen and, therefore, suffocate as a result.

Additionally, removal of the roots should be ruled out as a consideration. It goes without saying that the removal of even a part of a tree’s lifeline can lead to a disastrous outcome.

If any landscaping trees on your property show signs of surface roots and you have questions or concerns regarding how best to treat them while still maintaining the overall integrity of the tree, consult an Austin tree care specialist for guidance.

About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree service in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and oak wilt treatment. For more information on Austin tree service, please visit

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