Why do tree roots grow above ground?

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Back when we were children, we were always taught by our science teachers that tree roots are supposed to grow underground. The first time we see tree roots growing above the ground which is common for trees in the park, we may be surprised at how it is possible to grow upwards. What exactly is the reason for this occurrence? Is this bad for our trees?

Actually, trees with roots growing upwards are generally healthy and it will not be bad for our tree’s well-being. There are various reasons why roots are growing above and if you want or need something to prevent it from happening, there are some methods available. Before we can go to the solutions for this event, let us first understand why this is happening in the first place.

What causes tree roots to come above ground?

When tree roots are exposing themselves above ground, it can be due to their soil, not enough space, the way it was planted, and a few other possible reasons such as displacement.

Reason #1: Improper planting practice

How your tree was planted can absolutely affect how it will grow. When it was not planted properly, there will be some side effects for your tree, and one of them can cause its roots to grow above ground. This usually happens when a tree is planted way too deep in the soil. If the reason is due to improper planting, there will also be some signs such as your tree is probably sickly and will not grow the height and girth than what is expected.

Reason #2: Depends on the variety of tree

Some trees are actually more prone to grow roots above ground when compared to other varieties. Examples of the trees that have roots showing on the surface are willow, maple, poplar, and aspen trees.

Reason #3: Poor soil conditions

There are many problems that can be attributed to planting in poor soil. When the soil where your tree is planted does not contain the necessary nutrients that the tree requires, the roots will eventually find their way to the surface to be able to get more nutrients such as oxygen, sunlight, and water. For example, this usually happens in clay soil where it is hard for the roots to get food and is prone to water backlogging.

Another problem that is linked to the soil is erosion. When the soil is eroded due to various reasons, your tree’s roots will eventually show.

Reason #4: Insufficient space

When your tree is still growing, it will continue to branch out its roots across the area it was planted. If your tree’s roots do not have enough space to spread, it will eventually start to grow upwards and search for more breathing room. This is why it is very important to do extensive research on the best tree for your climate and location before planting. You would not want to plant a tree that will grow thick roots and branches when you only have little space in your lawn.

Reason #5: Displacement due to traffic

When your tree is placed in an area where there is a lot of foot traffic, this causes the soil to thin out and be dispersed in other areas. When this happens, your tree’s roots will eventually be visible. This is what usually happens for trees planted in places where the public frequently goes such as recreational parks and city-owned establishments. When you inspect their trees, you will see that most of them are showing their roots.

Reason #6: Age

One of the reasons why your tree is showing roots on the surface is due to its age. Older trees have thicker systems and this can often result in them having a more visible root. This phenomenon is also accompanied by the dispersion of soil as mentioned above.

Are exposed tree roots bad?

When your trees have exposed roots, it might be a cause of worry to you. However, this happening will not generally harm your tree. If there is no need for fixing, you can leave your tree alone. However, there can be some issues regarding other things aside from your trees such as how roots can be an eyesore to most owners and landscapers.




When are tree roots “bad?”

  1. Tree roots can ruin your property

When the tree roots are looking to find nutrients due to poor quality and other reasons, they will grow anywhere. There are many cases of damaged pavements due to roots growing under. Tree roots can also damage your home’s foundation that will be very expensive to repair.

  1. Tree roots can be an eyesore

Roots on the surface are not a big deal, but for other homeowners, they can be annoying to look at. When you have a landscape that already has a theme, roots showing on the soil can ruin the aesthetics of your lawn.

  1. Tree roots can be a safety hazard

When the tree is planted in an area where people pass by, it can be the reason for them to trip and to have some minor (and even major) injuries. If it is your tree, it is your responsibility to take care of your tree and make sure it does not cause harm to others. You may even get sued for endangering other people.

What should you do if your tree’s roots are visible above ground?

Before you act, determine if it would be necessary to do something to your tree. In most cases where trees are healthy and are not planted in public, you can leave them alone. However, if they are dangerous, you can look into some solutions such as mulching and covering it with more soil.



To know more about the best method for your tree, you can call your trusted arborist to do it for you. Depending on your tree, they may even advise on getting rid of them to avoid damage.

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