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Landscaping Around Exposed Tree Roots – 5 Easy Ideas

While a tree with exposed roots might show some character, it can make your landscape look uncared for and pose a tripping hazard. Exposed roots can also easily get damaged, which can affect your tree’s health. To remedy this, you can cover up those exposed root systems: here’s how to landscape around exposed tree roots.

If you have tree roots that have risen from the ground or where the ground around it has been packed down, landscaping will improve your tree’s health and give your yard a professional appearance. Follow along and discover a few ways to landscape around tree roots.

Landscaping Around Exposed Tree Roots

Mulch is the best medium to fill in around exposed tree roots. Soil can be added to the roots, but do so a little at a time to give the tree time to adjust. Loose mulch that is not too deep will protect the roots while allowing them to breathe and absorb water.

Ortho's All About Ground Covers (Ortho's All About Gardening)

Ground cover can be planted between raised roots, which will offer some protection. Forming a barrier around the tree and pruning the tree’s roots is also a method of taming exposed tree roots. This technique may be necessary if roots are damaging your home or walkways.

However, be very careful when cutting the roots of a full-grown tree. You could damage them.

Why are the roots of my tree exposed?

Some trees, such as banyans, willows, poplars, and silver maples, have roots that run close to the surface. You can plan for root exposure early when planting these varieties of trees by placing edging around the tree three to five inches above the surface and 24 inches or so below the surface.

Plan for it now if you have one of these tree varieties and have not yet had root exposure. Then, you can incorporate your landscaping ideas before the tree is fully grown.

Other trees may have root exposure due to erosion or where foot traffic wears away the dirt protecting the roots. Again, landscaping these areas will improve the health of the trees and the appearance of your yard, and understanding tree roots will also help you keep your trees healthy.

5 ways of Landscaping Around Exposed Tree Roots

1. Cover them with mulch or wood chips

mulch and leafy plants around a tree

Mulch or a wood byproduct is the quickest and easiest way to cover exposed tree roots. Rim the tree’s circumference with a three to five-inch high strip of edging or brick. Once in place, cover the roots with three to four inches of mulch or just enough to cover the roots.

You do not have to use edging with mulch, but it helps contain it. Be sure to cover all the roots, whether using a barrier or not, to be well insulated and protected.

Do not pile the mulch high around your tree’s roots, but be sure to use enough mulch that it rises to ground level, not below.

2. Add soil, sand, or compost, depending on your tree

soil around a tree

You can use soil mixed with sand and/or compost, but add it in thin layers over several weeks so that your tree can adjust to the change. The compost will give the tree a healthy dose of nutrients.

3. Cover the exposed roots with gravel

gravel around tree roots

Gravel or pebbles are also effective landscaping mediums to cover your tree roots. Again, if you form a barrier around your tree, the mulch, soil, or gravel you use will stay where you put it and help with any erosion issues you might have.

4. Use groundcover or plants to hide exposed tree roots

red groundcover around tree base

A good ground cover can hide tree roots and add an interesting texture and color to your tree. Some plants thrive in the shade of larger trees.

Here are a few ground covers to use depending on your soil:

bright pink azaleas planted around a tree trunk

Planting plants outside of the root line will hide the roots, and protect them from foot traffic, the lawnmower, the weed eater, and erosion. The plants will also offer a nice visual effect on your landscape.

Plants that do well in the shade include hostas, creeping thyme, oakleaf hydrangea, azaleas, nandinas, pansies, and caladiums.

hydrangeas thriving under a tree

5. Build a well around your tree

This interesting solution works and will allow you to grow plants outside of the perimeter of the roots. A tree well is a wall built about three feet high around the edge of your tree’s root line. The well is then filled with mulch or gravel to protect the roots of your tree.

Mulch or gravel is the only thing put into the well space because its purpose is to protect the roots of your tree. It is a well, not a planter. However, you can grow plants around the outside of the well. The plants will hide it and will benefit from the shade of your tree.

Edging materials for landscaping around bare tree roots

EasyFlex 3500-20C-3 Pound-in Landscape Edging, 20 FEET, Black

Barriers/edging can be purchased at varying lengths. The most popular edging is made of PVC, and it is easy to measure off the size you need, cut it, and put it into place.

However, other edging materials work well. For example, decorative bricks will hold mulch or soil in place and are eye-appealing. Even roofing tin cut into strips is suitable to use for edging around your tree.

Methods of retaining soil or mulch around the base of a tree are endless. However, no matter how you cover the roots, be sure that you do not put too much soil or mulch on the roots, or you could do more harm to your tree than good.

Root pruning

This job is not for the faint of heart or those with a weak back. Root pruning requires digging a trench away from your tree and cutting the roots so that they no longer run.

You should only prune roots if they pose a danger to your home’s foundation, walkway, or driveway. A young tree that has its roots pruned may survive the ordeal. However, pruning may shock an older tree and potentially kill it.

FAQs about landscaping around exposed tree roots

Is it bad for tree roots to be exposed?

If the exposed roots are not protected, they could be damaged while mowing around the tree.

Can you put landscape fabric around trees?

Landscape fabric helps control weeds, but if installed improperly, it can suffocate the tree roots. Mulch in the right amount is better, letting moisture and air get through.

Can you plant flowers over exposed tree roots?

Yes! You can plant flowers around your tree’s root zone. This will help prevent weeds from growing in that area and give it some color. If you want something more permanent, consider planting perennials like hostas, hydrangeas, or daylilies.

Will root pruning kill the tree?

Removing or pruning exposed tree roots can badly injure (and even kill) the tree. Since the roots are how the trees extract nutrients from the soil, removing them will deprive the tree of nutrients and water. A tree with pruned roots might also lose its stability in case of strong winds or a storm. If unsure of what you are doing, call a professional or use another method to manage your tree’s surface roots.

Landscaping around exposed tree roots
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Adriana Copaceanu is a passionate nature lover living in the country on her dream property where she grows vegetables, lavender, and wildflowers that she shares with the wildlife they attract. When she's not in the garden, she loves spending time with her chickens and planning her next nature project. Check out her books below:

How to Grow Lavender for Fun and Profit: Lessons Learned from Planting Three Hundred Lavender Plants

How to Raise Chickens for Eggs: A Guide to Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens for Nutritious, Organic Eggs at Home

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