Tree Roots Above Ground? How To Fix Exposed Tree Roots and Prevent It

Man driving a purple car looks at tree roots above ground and wonders how to fix exposed tree roots, prevent tree roots above the ground and if there are tree root removal options like cutting roots, covering roots, or grinding tree roots.

Some species such as the Aspen Tree (with interconnecting roots) and the Maple Tree, have tree roots above ground that are unsightly, or pose a threat to the stability of the tree.

They won’t pose a threat to the tree itself as long as they are firmly established and healthy, and they often enable the tree to withstand high-velocity winds without toppling over, spreading far and wide for extra stability.

However, if the roots present a risk of damaging surrounding structures, or if they just don’t have the visual appeal you’d like in your backyard, there are steps you can take to either reduce their visibility or curtail their danger.

Many people ask how to fix tree roots above ground, apart from moving the entire tree? And, how can you deal with exposed tree roots in an eco-friendly way that will help the tree?

This guide explains why tree roots grow above ground, and how to fix exposed tree roots using safe, healthy root removal methods that can ensure that the tree will remain healthy.

How To Fix Exposed Tree Roots (Cut Tree Roots Without Killing Tree)

The root systems of trees are durable yet sensitive at the same time and are crucial to the health and longevity of the tree.

Exposed roots, which previously were just a nuisance, can become irksome and a hazard to your health if they have grown way too big and gnarly, and need to be permanently cut back.

Graphics of how to fix roots above ground showing full grown trees with mulch, added topsoil and planted ground cover, and cut roots images.

How to go about it?

Digging around the tree roots to get better access to cut them free sounds like the way to go. But before beginning to saw or cut through any of the now fully exposed roots, it’s best to confirm that it isn’t a stabilizing root holding the tree in an upright position or a nutrient-absorbing one.

As a general rule, the roots that are closest to the surface in some types of trees are the stabilizers, while the nutrient providers could be any one of them.

If you’re adamant that you want to tackle the task yourself, follow a few simple guidelines to reduce the risk of chopping off a root that the tree can’t afford to lose.7

  1. Roots that are too close to the trunk should be left alone. As a rule of thumb, measure the diameter of the trunk, multiply that by 5, and only cut roots beyond that distance.
  2. Whatever you do, don’t get carried away and turn into a serial root slasher.
    Even if you’re tempted to clean up the yard in one go, restrain yourself and never cut more than 25% of the tree’s exposed roots. Cut away too much and you risk killing the tree accidentally.
    If more does need to be trimmed away you’ll have to wait 2 years before having another go to allow the tree to recover from the shock of having some limbs lopped off.
  3. Take your time. Carefully select which roots you are going to amputate as the last thing you’ll want is for the tree to be supported well on one side, and not on the other.

If in doubt, don’t do it.

Call in a professional who knows how to remove a tree root safely.

Cutting Tree Roots

Employing a professional to evaluate the situation eliminates the risk of making a costly mistake for your tree. They will be able to accurately identify which roots can be safely excised.

Image of protruded roots from the ground that is covered with dried leaves.

(Image: Michael Gaida13)

Their process will be similar to the unearthing process above but because of their experience they will know how to safely remove the roots, or they will advise you that removing the entire tree may be your best option.

Roots of a Tree

A tree’s longevity, health, height, and stability, can be traced directly to its roots.

Nutrients, water, and minerals are absorbed from the soil into the stem and distributed throughout the entire tree. They also store these resources for the future if and when there is a shortage, for when there isn’t a rainy day.

A strong root system will anchor a healthy tree in place so a heavy storm or a blast of wind won’t send it flying through your front window.6 If you have the option of initially planting the tree, choose one that will have a deep root system.

Or conversely, choose a small tree whose less aggressive roots will not grow above ground, and don’t plant them too close to hard surfaces as these will restrict them as they expand.

Closeup of a tree showing roots above ground and trunk bark with fissures.

(Image: Barbara D. Wood10)

The support structure initially starts with the taproot which starts out as the longest and deepest part of the root system. This is eventually outgrown by the other parts of the root as they grow deeper – and as the tree matures the root system evolves with it.

  • The lateral roots increase the tree’s stability by growing across the ground just below the surface.
  • Diagonally from the main root grow the oblique roots that help to reinforce the tree even further, anchoring it firmly in place.
  • Sinker roots extend several feet down from the lateral roots, overtaking the taproot in the search for water.

All of these sections of the root then form finer, smaller offshoots that act like separate living organisms, all contributing towards sustaining the overall needs of the tree.

If the earth becomes compacted at any stage, it’s no surprise that the roots would break through the earth’s surface to feed the needs of this growing force of nature.

A weakened topsoil in an urban environment is a contributing factor in the lateral root movement, and in such a setting the lateral and oblique roots become the most dominant and supportive.

Why Do Tree Roots Grow Above Ground?

It’s a matter of survival.

In order to access water and nutrients, tree roots adapt to their surroundings. They generally branch outwards, often underground and out of sight, in search of sustenance if the central taproot does not bore deep enough.

Another reason for their protrusion is when the earth around them becomes too compacted, choking off the supply of oxygen and water that would otherwise be available in loose soil.

Soil erosion also plays a role.

There are many trees whose shallow roots are barely a foot below the surface but are revealed when the topsoil is whipped away by winds and heavy rains.4

Above-ground roots are very noticeable in these regions. If they poke through your pristine lawn they can be annoying, an eyesore, and a tripping hazard.

The point of danger for the tree comes in the form of accidental injury to the exposed roots from mowing or from other gardening tools.

This unintentional damage can open the door for insect infestations or diseases to assail the tree through the opening, which can be deadly.

How To Prevent Tree Roots Above Ground

Certain trees are more prone to growing surface roots than others.

Different types of Maple Trees and certain Poplar Trees are prime offenders for having tree roots above ground.

It’s not always easy to prevent the roots from poking through as they remain buried, out of sight and out of mind, until they become visible.

Plants or even other trees can influence how the roots grow. If the tree has to compete with weeds, flowers, or other trees for the finite resources in that area, it can result in insufficient nutrient availability in the soil.

And if there is not enough moisture in the immediate area, the tree will give the order to go out and discover a new source. As if on command, the roots will break free grow laterally or vertically in the hunt for a regular water source, and will very rarely let anything get in their way.

This is one of the reasons why it is not recommended to plant trees too close to your property, or your neighbor’s for that matter, to avoid any sort of underground invasion that can cause structural damage.

If you are concerned about this phenomenon, fertilizing your trees may satisfy the tree’s needs, but here are a few other tips that may help keep them underground where they belong.8

First, thoroughly inspect every part of the root system that you can see.

If the root is healthy, you’ll see a white or a pale color underneath the bark, as long as it’s not white fungi. You’ll be able to tell if it is a fungal infection if there are any types of mushrooms growing at the tree’s base, or if there are yellowing leaves, both of which are signs of chlorosis.

It’s important to remember that the natural place for roots is below ground. When they are visible, it’s a clear sign that something is not right but a quick surface analysis is unlikely to reveal the cause of the problem.

A deeper examination is what is needed, and a handy tool to use in this scenario to get a look beneath the layers of dirt is an air spade.

(Image: cottonbro studio11)

Experienced arborists use this technique of air spading to inspect the roots for infections such as root rot, to free up compacted earth that is restricting the growth of roots, and also to aerate the soil.2

An air spade uses compressed air to push away the soil quickly without causing any damage and is completely safe to use. Rather than manually digging and risking accidentally injuring the roots, this tool excavates the soil effortlessly to allow for closer inspections.

Fully exposed, the roots can be given the once-over for any signs of diseases, pests, or fungal infections, and it can then be determined which roots need to be excised to improve plant health.

Once the all-clear has been given, the roots can then be re-covered with freshly loosened soil, and combining it with organic compost will improve the soil even further.

Watering a tree is also another method of preventing root protrusions. Proper irrigation will allow the soil to unbind and relax so it will not become an impenetrable ball in the first place

Yet there is more than one way to water a tree.

Just because the area around the tree’s trunk appears to be soaked enough to keep the tree nourished, doesn’t mean that the water is penetrating deep enough to satisfy all the parts of the root system.

Also, it’s possible on extremely hot days that the water you’ve just sprayed liberally around could be evaporated by the intense heat before being fully absorbed.

Deep root irrigation diagram graphics showing how to properly determine the drip line of a full grown tree using its canopy and root system.

Deep root irrigation for your trees is a technique you should consider using if you want to ensure that water penetrates the deepest parts of the roots.9

With this technique, a special tube is inserted into the soil near the trunk to accurately direct water toward the roots buried deeper underground.

It uses less water and directly targets the deeper roots of your trees to make sure they don’t get neglected.

What To Do With Tree Roots Above Ground (Tree Root Removal)

If the roots have already protruded, there are a few methods you can employ to live with them rather than going for the nuclear option of complete tree removal.

Be mindful, however, that the wrong course of action can exacerbate the problem with some owners even harming their trees while trying to improve their appearance.

  • Ground covers are a great method to hide the offending roots – as long as the correct ones are used. Plant the wrong ones and they will compete for water and nutrients to the detriment of your tree, which may well then force the roots to expand even further afield.
  • Just as with using the wrong plants for ground cover, the same problem can occur if inorganic mulch is used to conceal the roots.

Planting or allowing grass to overgrow the offending area also doesn’t work. One of the best landscaping ideas around tree roots that some gardeners use is to make a feature around the tree itself.

Close up of mulch around the base of a tree.

(Image: Jnzl12)

It won’t matter if you have trees with big roots exposed or trees with small roots poking through, this technique will work for you.

  • Clear the area of grass, weeds, or flowers so only the soil and roots are exposed, and create an edge around the trunk.
  • Spread a thick layer of organic mulch around the exposed area so everything is hidden, yet not smothered.

The benefit of mulching around trees is that it will leech nutrients into the roots as it breaks down, will sustain the moisture in the soil, and protect the roots from potentially damaging lawn equipment.3

Be careful to leave a distance between the trunk and the mulch or this oversight could quickly have your tree on life support.

Tree Roots Above Ground and a Tree Removal Cost Calculator

It’s possible that the incursion of the roots has become too invasive and poses a significant threat to the foundation of your property, and even though you keep cutting them off, they just keep growing back.5

Exasperated, you turn online to consult a free tree removal calculator to get an estimate.

The age and the condition of the tree may also play a part in your decision and an online tool will be able to give you an idea of the process and costs involved. From the details entered, a tree doctor or surgeon can give you a rough price, but he would still have to evaluate the state, location, and size of the tree as these factors play a role in the end price.

The roots of small trees may not be as deeply rooted as those of larger trees, making the removal easier and a lot less labor-intensive.

The other parts of a tree that will also have to be removed before the tree is uprooted are the branches, and if you have a tree with multiple branches, this will be accounted for in the increased final price.

A tree is classed as small if its diameter is less than 12 inches and it’s less than 30 feet tall, and the cost can be between $150 to $400.

With a professional tree cutter, all the permits will be applied for, and the tree can be cut down safely and quickly. They will also completely excavate the stump and remove all the remains off-site.

The costs can be more expensive for crane assisted tree cutting and removal.

Tree Roots Exposed

By following a few simple procedures, it’s possible to avoid the aesthetically displeasing sight of roots peaking through or even obliterating the smooth flow of your lawn.

Plan, plant, and aerate properly, and the soil will provide enough nutrients to keep the roots good and buried and you won’t have to endure the eyesore of having your tree roots above ground.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tree Roots Above Ground

Is Grinding Roots Out Possible?

After the tree has been cut down, grinders are often used to break down what remains of it and also to cut the roots into sections for easier removal.

Can Planting Other Species Stop the Surface Roots?

Underplanting with drought-tolerant plants can benefit the nutrient retention ability in the soil but they should not compete with the tree’s roots for water.1

What Are the Ways How To Prevent Tree Roots Above Ground?

Choosing the right tree species and planting it in moist, nutrient-dense soil, will stop the tree roots above ground from happening.

When Can the Roots Be Cut?

The end of winter or early spring will be the best time to prune the roots.


1Ford, E. (2023). Underplanting Trees – Respect the Roots. The Pennsylvania State University Extension. Retrieved July 12, 2023, from <>

2Grabowsk, M., & Kanner, C. A. (2023). Armillaria root rot. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved July 12, 2023, from <>

3Jackson, D. R. (2018, April 12). Mulching Landscape Trees. The Pennsylvania State University Extension. Retrieved July 12, 2023, from <>

4Lerner, R. (2023). When Tree Roots Surface. Purdue University. Retrieved July 12, 2023, from <>

5Purcell, L. (2020, October 27). Question: Can tree roots cause damage to a home’s foundation? Purdue University. Retrieved July 12, 2023, from <>

6Sillick, J.M., & Jacobi, W.R. (2023). Healthy Roots and Healthy Trees – 2.926. Colorado State University Extension. Retrieved July 12, 2023, from <>

7University of Florida. (2023). Root pruning guidelines. University of Florida. Retrieved July 12, 2023, from <>

8University of Massachusetts Amherst. (2023). Fertilizing Trees. University of Massachusetts Amherst. Retrieved July 12, 2023, from <>

9Washington State University. (2023). Deep Watering of Trees. Washington State University. Retrieved July 12, 2023, from <>

10Photo by Barbara D. Wood. Pixabay. Retrieved from <>

11Photo by cottonbro studio. Resized and changed format. Pexels. Retrieved February 13, 2024, from <>

12Mulch around tree Photo by Jnzl / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) . Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>

13Photo by Michael Gaida. Pixabay. Retrieved from <>