Why do tree roots come to the surface?

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When people see tree roots on the surface, they can get weirded out. After all, shouldn’t trees grow their roots below the ground? Depending on the location, these roots can not only be out of place but can also cause an annoyance, especially if it is located on private property such as on the lawn of a home in a subdivision.

In cases where the tree roots are already visible on the surface, it can also be a cause of harm to passersby, especially when they are planted in public areas such as malls and parks. Because of this, many property owners are asking why this is happening and if there is something that they can do to hide the roots and keep them from showing their often unkempt appearance. 

Exposed tree roots, why exactly do they appear?

Exposed tree roots, also called surface roots, are the roots that have grown on or near the uppermost layer of the soil. Although they are often seen as just an eyesore, some owners want to stop this from happening, as it is possible for these roots to cause harm to people, animals, and also cause damage to their property. Surface roots can also be in the way of a beautiful landscape.




In order for us to know if it is possible to do something about the exposed tree roots and if it is normal, we have to know why this is happening in the first place. 

Reasons why roots rise to the surface

The most common reasons why tree roots grow on top of the surface are the following:

  1. The tree’s variety and kind may be the cause.

There are a couple of reasons why it is important to do extensive research before planting a tree on your property, and one of them is so that you will know about its certain characteristics and needs. For example, if you live in a place that is warm and sunny, you would not want to plant a tree or shrub that prefers the cold. 

Some kinds and varieties of trees are more prone to have surface roots. These trees are usually in the birch, maple, or beech families, such as river birches, silver maples, red maples, Norway maples, and American beeches. Because of their species which are known to quickly grow out thick roots, it would be unwise to plant them in a place where they are expected to not take up too much space. 

If you want to plant a tree for landscaping in residential areas, stay away from maples and willows, and choose crabapples and dogwoods instead, as most varieties usually have a non-invasive root system. 

  1. The tree was not planted properly.

When a tree is planted properly, the possibility that it will grow to a healthy one with a good root system will be more likely. Trees are just like people. If they had a good “childhood,” meaning they were provided with the things they need such as air, good soil, and water, the tree will most likely mature in a healthy manner.  

On the other hand, if the tree was not properly planted and maintained, the chances of it being healthy as it matures will be significantly lessened, and it is more likely for it to have diseases, pests, and an unhealthy root system. Although surface roots do not necessarily mean that the tree was not properly planted, this may be the case, especially when it does not even have an invasive root system in the first place. 

  1. The soil has a poor quality or is incompatible with the tree.

Trees have a preference or requirement when it comes to the soil they are planted in. If a tree requires the soil to be sandy but is instead planted in clay soil, this can cause problems in the growth of the tree. If this is the case, some trees may not survive, and some might, though they will possibly be weak and have messed up root systems. 

Another reason why soil can be the reason for surface roots is when it does not contain the nutrients and other needs of the root, which results in it to “branch out” and travel until it is able to receive the food that it needs. When this is the culprit, it can also cause other problems to the owner as well, as these roots can damage foundations and asphalt roads.

  1. There is not enough oxygen supply for the root.

It may be surprising to some people, but roots actually need to breathe. In fact, just like other living beings, they need a supply of oxygen for them to survive. Although some tree roots do not require that much, air is a necessity that is absolutely crucial for the growth of a tree. 

Usually, if the tree is planted properly on compatible soil, it is possible for the soil to absorb the oxygen that the roots need so that it will not be necessary for them to branch out. However, if they find themselves not being provided with the oxygen they need, roots will find a way to breathe, causing the roots to grow on the surface.

  1. There is not enough space.

As mentioned above, doing research is crucial before planting a tree on your lawn. You would not want to plant a tree that you want to use for privacy only for it to turn out small, wouldn’t you? Make sure to list your reasons why you want to plant a tree before doing the work so that you would not waste valuable resources such as your time and effort. 

If you only have a little space in your backyard, opt to plant trees that have small root systems. 

  1. The soil may have been displaced due to traffic and other factors.

Although it is often overlooked, another reason why roots are visible on the surface is that the soil has been displaced or eroded. This is normal, especially in places that have high foot traffic. If the tree is planted in a public area such as a park, people who are walking on the soil back and forth will eventually cause the soil to thin out until the roots are already showing. 

  1. The tree has already reached its maturity.

When a tree is already old or has already reached its maturity, it is normal for its root system to be thicker compared to trees that are still growing. 

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