Trees can be a great addition to your landscaping, as they provide aesthetic beauty, shade and oxygen – while increasing the value of your home.
But those poplars can turn into pests if they’re not properly planted and pruned.
One often overlooked problem that can develop over time with many trees is when part of the root system comes to the surface of the ground. When that happens, roots can kill the grass around it, damage your mower as you try to maintain the grass that remains around them – if planted too close to driveways, sidewalks and paths – cause cement or asphalt to crack or buckle, resulting in significant repair costs. Roots can also damage your home’s foundation if trees are planted too close.
If roots are causing structural damage, it is recommended to call a certified arborist or structural engineer to see what your options are.
“Most people think the roots are way down there, but a lot of trees have their roots close to the ground,” said John Schott, owner of Indianapolis-based Schott Services, LLC. “The roots spread out, but a lot of them don’t go that deep, which can cause them to come up.”
Soft maples, locusts, poplars and weeping willows are the most common trees that form surface roots, said Larry Stewart, owner of Indianapolis-based Stewart’s Lawn Care & Tree Service. But any mature tree can develop it over time for no apparent reason. Sometimes the surfacing is caused by erosion.
Once the roots come to the surface they’re there to stay; they do not go back down on their own. And cutting too much of the roots off can potentially damage or kill the tree.
Tree experts recommend fixing root problems that are not causing structural damage with some simple landscaping techniques. Stewart suggests making a garden bed underneath the tree where the roots are and adding mulch, top soil or river rock into it.
If you’re not interested in the additional landscaping, Stewart said his company will use a stump grinder to cut down some of the roots without killing the tree. That, he said, at least allows people to mow over the roots without causing damage to the lawn mower.
Preventative maintenance can also help. Although some trees’ roots will come up over time no matter how they are planted, Stewart said a common reason tree roots surface is because the trees may not have been planted deep enough.
“People need to make sure the trees are planted flush with the ground,” Stewart said. “Some landscapers end up getting lazy. If they’re not planted deep enough, it will cause them to come up much quicker.”
Make sure to take your time before planting trees and contact a tree expert or arborist to come to your home for suggestions. These experts can recommend areas of your yard that would be ideal to plant trees and areas to stay away from. Most estimates are free. The cost of removing a tree can cost anywhere from $180 to $1,200, depending on the size.
“It’s a good idea to plant all your trees eight to 10 feet away from driveways and your home,” Schott said. “Ask a reputable person to get information before planting. You don’t want trees to buckle the driveway. You also need to research how big a tree is going to be 10 to 20 years down the road. Some trees may only end up 20 or 30 feet, while others could go up to 90.”
If you have are planning to add trees to your property or if you have a tree that is damaging pavement or your home’s foundation (or you are worried it could) seek the advice of at least three certified arborists who can do an onsite inspection to determine if the tree many need to be cut down. Many factors will go into the decision, including: The health of the tree; the distance from the roots to the foundation of the house and the driveway; the type of foundation; the slope of the ground; the soil type; and the type of driveway.
Make sure to ask for proof of certification from the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and never pay in full before the job is complete to your satisfaction.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in June of 2013.