Help for old Oakie

Asked April 24, 2017, 4:31 PM EDT

Hello, I moved to the Spring Ridge Frederick Community 3 years ago. The first thing I loved about the TH was the mature full-on leafy Oak tree. The previous owner never cared for the yard or tree. It was clear she unloaded a few bags of topsoil before the house was on the market. The soil as eroded/washed away, exposing all the roots and years of neglect. I'd like to know any options that would save the tree. I'm worried about roots lifting the sidewalk, creeping into neighbors yard, or into the foundation and sewer line. Any ideas?

Frederick County Maryland oaks trees erosion under oak superficial roots under oak oak roots

6 Responses

Unless your oak has a lot of dead branches, it has probably adapted well to its site and you don't need to worry about saving it.

We can't determine from the photos if your yard is on a slope, or steeply sloped. It appears fairly level. If so, erosion is not the cause of the exposed roots. The flare of the tree at its base also appears normal and not especially high, which also suggests that erosion is not especially severe under your tree.

However, old trees commonly have some superficial roots that make it difficult to grow anything close to the base of the tree (or especially to mow there.) Almost bare soil is not unusual. Those roots compete for water and nutrients with plants under the tree, too. Consequently, that space is usually dry shade most of the year--tough growing conditions for other plants. (Of course, that suits the tree fine. It doesn't want to share water and nutrients with other plants.)

So, you can spread some soil over the roots (2-3 inches at most) but it will still be hard to grow plants there. Plant in between the roots in pockets of soil and be sure to keep the new plants well-watered for at least 2 years.

The roots of all tree can extend out as much a 1 1/2 times the height of the tree. There is nothing you can do about that. If the roots are not causing a problem now, they probably will not anytime soon.

It appears that moss has established itself among the tree roots. Moss gardens are almost maintenance-free and can be very beautiful. You might consider making the area with the most roots a moss garden and only trying to plant other things beyond that.


Thank you for your response. FIrst, I am a little embarrassed, the tree is a maple, not an oak.
An arborist told me the tree should come down.
I was hoping for another option. Will thining the tree help?

Also, the lot is fairly level.

It's very common for maples to have superficial roots like yours does.

You don't mention why the arborist suggesting taking down the tree. What's the problem? What symptoms is the tree showing?


I made it clear my desire to keep the tree, and perhaps grinding some of the roots and a trim would improve things. I was told the tree should have been taken down 5 years ago.
Cost to remove tree and roots would be $1,000.
I'm worried about the roots lifting the sidewalk, neighbors yards (though they don't complain and would prefer the tree), and also about the roots creeping into sewer line.
More pictures here.

Any mechanical root damage or digging can harm the tree and is not recommended. Root damage can affect the tree months or years later depending upon any environmental stresses.
The roots should not bother the sewer line. However, any tree will exploit a water source such as a broken water pipe or sewer line.
Dead branches can be pruned at any time. If branches are touching the house or roof then you may want to consider pruning. It may be helpful to look at the attached publication on When to Remove A Tree.

Also, you may want to get a few more estimates from other certified arborists for an onsite evaluation regarding the health of the tree and the best way to proceed