Tree Roots on Surface or Buried?

Asked June 19, 2019, 3:52 PM EDT

Four maple trees, 12-15' tall, were planted about 3 years ago in clay soil and have struggled. This spring, a tree expert removed the mulch volcanoes, spread out surface roots on the ground, and said just to leave them there, uncovered. A different tree expert said the roots should be covered in dirt. Who's right? PS - With all the rain we've had, the trees appear healthy and much more robust than they did last year.

Oakland County Michigan

1 Response


Trees have surface roots in order to acquire oxygen. Do these roots have bark forming on them? Roots with bark should remain on the surface.

Wood chip or shredded bark mulches benefit trees and can be placed at a depth of 2-3 inches. This allows oxygen to pass through to the roots. Shade tolerant perennials such as hostas, tiarella, and lady’s mantle could also be planted around the tree in between the large roots, being careful not to injure the tree’s roots. But, mulch at the proper depth and not touching the trunk is best for the tree. Hand weed next to the trunk- weed trimmers cut bark on trunks and roots opening the tree to disease and insects.

You can find certified arborists, ones who have had training and passed certification tests, by name, location, or zip code here-

For your reference, here is a “Manual” showing good tree care practices-

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