Surface Rooting of Maples and Birch Trees
10 Sep
Surface Rooting – Understanding the Root Systems of Maple and Birch Trees

Certain Maples and Birch Tree are Known to have Surface Roots.  

If you already have maple and birch trees in your yard and desire to keep them, what can you do about their surface roots? You may be asking, “What are surface roots, what causes them and what can you do about them?”

Surface Roots – What are they and what causes them?

For the vast number of tree varieties in Metro Atlanta, much of trees’ roots are usually found within the top foot of the soil around the tree.  As the roots within the first few inches of soil grow sizably, the roots will emerge through the surface of the soil.  This is called ‘Surface Rooting’.  Surface rooting occurs quite often in clay-based or compressed soils often see in urban city areas. But wherever the soil is either compacted or has begun to be washed away, surface rooting can occur.  As the roots begin to be exposed on older trees, they can cause a number of problems including making it generally difficult to maintain the yard as well as possibly becoming a tripping hazard and cracking nearby sidewalks or driveways.


If you have any concerns about the root systems of your trees, please call Northside Tree Professionals at 770-394-0905.


Surface Roots – What can be done about them?

Here are some ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for dealing with surface roots.

First, do cut any of the exposed roots. This could lead to disease or insect infestation.  It can also reduce the tree’s strength in the soil and could increase its chance of falling during a storm.  Plus, as a worst case, cutting these roots could cause dieback in the tree or even kill it completely.

Second, you can cover the area near the tree in one of these two ways.

  1. Make a 50-50 mixture of compost and topsoil.  Take your mixture and put about 2 inches at the base of the tree.  During the later part of the summer, put grass seed over this same area, using seeds that are tolerant to shade.  Instead of grass seed, you could add some other shade tolerant ground cover, such as moss. Make sure to keep this area watered.  It you see the roots are still exposed within the next several months, you can add 2 more inches of the same proportions of compost and topsoil. Be sure to add grass seed again or some other ground cover.  Four inches is the most you should ever add to the base of the tree in order to avoid smothering the roots and possibly killing the tree
  2. You could put down no more than 4 inches of wood chips (these can be delivered for free by most Tree cutting companies).  By using wood chips, not only does this help raise the level around the roots while keeping them damp, but it allows the roots to breathe.  Be careful that you only cover the roots and that you don’t heap the wood chops against the trunk of the tree.

Surface Rooting of Maples and Birch Trees

If you are planning to plant new trees in your yard, Great!  But be aware of the surface rooting issues of certain trees, such as certain Maples and Birch

When planning to plant a new tree in your yard, be aware of the future roots systems that this tree may present in your yard as it gets older.  Here are a couple of things to consider:

  • Look for trees that have deeper roots systems such as certain oaks, hickories, sycamores or walnuts. 
  • Think about planning smaller trees such as cherry trees, dogwoods, magnolias or redbuds.  Larger trees may eventually cause surface rooting that could lead to other issues on your property depending on where they are planted in relation to your lawn and structures.

Please contact Northside Tree Professionals at 770-394-0905 to have one of our Certified Arborist to advise you about trees on your property.