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Can tree roots in the lawn be cut?

Homeowners ask if tree roots can be removed if sticking up above ground. They want to know if they can be removed without harming the tree.

Short answer: No. Roots are vital for the structure and water/nutrient absorption. Removing roots can cause the tree to become unstable and start the process of decline.

Long Answer: Tree roots, though often unseen, are crucial for the health and stability of the entire tree. Unfortunately, cutting tree roots, whether intentional or unintentional, can have severe consequences for both the individual tree and the surrounding environment. We will explore some of the consequences of cutting tree roots.

Consequences of cutting tree roots

  1. Reduced Structural Stability:

Tree roots serve as an anchor, providing structural stability to the tree. When roots are cut, especially major ones close to the trunk, the tree becomes more susceptible to toppling over, especially during strong winds or storms. This poses a risk to property and human safety, as fallen trees can cause significant damage.

  1. Reduced Nutrient and Water Absorption:

Roots are responsible for absorbing essential nutrients and water from the soil, which are crucial for the tree’s survival and growth. Cutting roots disrupts this vital process, leading to nutrient deficiency and dehydration. The tree’s overall health is compromised, making it more susceptible to diseases, pests, and other stress factors.

  1. Increased Soil Erosion:

Tree roots play a crucial role in preventing soil erosion. They bind the soil particles together, providing stability to the ground. Cutting roots can result in soil destabilization, leading to lawn erosion.

  1. Impact on Surrounding Vegetation:

The root systems of trees are often interconnected with the surrounding vegetation. Cutting tree roots can have a domino effect, affecting the health of other plants in the vicinity. This disruption can lead to a decline in biodiversity, with repercussions for the entire yard.

What can be done?

Can I cover the tree roots with dirt?

Do not add dirt to cover the roots. That can cause secondary roots, girdling roots, and general root dysfunction.

What can be done to cover exposed roots?

Put down 3”-4” of hardwood mulch or clean wood chips around all the exposed roots, keeping it off the trunk. The mulch will protect the tree from mowing equipment while providing nutrients and helping regulating soil moisture.