Dead Spruce Roots - can anything grow there?

Asked October 2, 2018, 2:32 PM EDT

We just lost a 60 year old large spruce in a storm (yes, it fell on the house). We cannot easily get the trunk out due to a retaining wall that surrounded the tree. The tree company that cut down the spruce mentioned that we should not try to plant there due to the extensive, existing shallow root system that will not allow for another tree or bush to grow. It is true that no small plantings every did well around this tree, but now that it is gone, will the roots (which like I said we cannot remove) affect other plantings?

Denver County Colorado dead tree roots

2 Responses

How terrible to lose such an large, old magnificent tree! Our condolences.

A spruce will not re-sprout, so you won't have to worry about the roots remaining alive, however, it will take 4-5 years for these roots to decay in the area surrounding the tree. The rule of thumb is that tree roots extend to the edges of the old canopy, and probably several feet beyond that radius.

It will be hard to plant another tree or bush until the larger roots have decayed. But most of the roots of spruce trees are very fibrous (rather than large roots) and will provide tremendous organic matter as they decay.

You could plant perennials or annuals in the area where the roots exist, knowing that you will dig up lots of fibrous roots in the planting process. Dig a wider hole than usual, but don't worry since the roots you encounter are already dead or dying. Most perennials and annuals do not spread very wide, and will likely not be affected by the old tree roots. You can also plant grass in the area around the retaining wall

After a few years you can replant shrubs or a tree in the same area, but due to the retaining wall, you may not want to plant too close to this to allow for complete decay of the remaining trunk and stabilizing roots around it. You'll know when this main structure of the tree has decayed because the ground will sink substantially around the base of the trunk. Add more soil to this area when this happens to level the ground.

Thank you so much for your quick, thoughtful, and helpful response to my inquiry. Your feedback convinced me that now is not the time to put a new tree in that space, but to add something more modest like grasses..and perhaps a sculpture, until we see that the roots have decomposed. Large river rocks in the retaining wall area will help to hide the flattened, but not fully removed, stump.

Really appreciate you sharing knowledge with us.