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Laurel Oak Tree
Surface Roots Problem

Q: Hi Tom,
I have a Laurel Oak tree about 35 to 40 feet tall, I keep the lower branches trimmed back each year but I am noticing that the surface roots have gotten bigger and are a nuisance.

I cannot run my lawn mower over them and they are lifting my cement sidewalk. Some are right at the foundation of my house. They are also a tripping hazard.

I have some roots 3 to 6 inches around with half the root sticking 3 to 5 inches above the ground. They travel along the ground surface some 4 ft and other up to 12 feet. What can I do about them?

I was thinking about renting a stump grinder and making them flush with the ground or cutting them out with a chain saw.

Thanks for your advice

A: By no means cut the roots or use a stump grinder to grind them flat. This will almost certainly cause irreparable damage to your tree.

You may need to call in some help on this one. What I would consider doing is raising the grade around and between the roots with good topsoil so that the grade is just above the tops of the roots, then seeding or sodding. This will buy you some time until the roots continue to enlarge and their tops begin to "surface" again.

You can also make a mulch circle to cover all or most of the offending roots -- this way you won't need to mow, and you won't trip as easily because the mulch will fill in all the gaps by bringing the grade up to the tops of the roots.

Depending on how close the sidewalk and foundation are to the trunk of the tree, you may be able to cut the roots, but you should have a professional check this out for you, too.

A rule of thumb is that if you are 5 trunk diameters away from the trunk on one side, you can cut roots from that point outward and the tree should not suffer terribly. This rule only applies to one side of the tree, not all the way around!

If none of this sounds appetizing, you might consider removing the tree and replacing it, but it'll take many years to get back what you already have.

I recommend investing in some upkeep, and it sounds like you need professional advice. It'll be worth spending a little money to have it all done right.

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