Why you should never kill tree roots – experts warn against these terrifying tree mistakes

Killing tree roots can cause serious problems for your yard, experts warn

Olive trees in the garden of the summer residence of Elena Piletra.
(Image credit: Mark Bolton)

Trees make wonderful additions to our yards however their roots can sometimes become unruly or emerge from underground. Due to their thick and sprawling nature, it can be tempting to want to remove them from our properties but experts have warned that you should never remove tree roots for some important reasons. 

While it is sometimes necessary to know how to kill tree roots in our backyard ideas such as when they are causing damage to pipework or building foundations, or when removing a tree stump, removing or killing the roots of a living tree can cause issues such as the death of the tree, or worse, instability - leaving the tree vulnerable to collapsing in bad weather.

Here, we have explored the reasons why you should never kill tree roots so you can avoid more serious problems down the line.

Why you should never kill tree roots 

: A quiet garden with a swing in the shade and olive trees.

(Image credit: Mark Bolton)

'Tree roots serve the same purpose as any plants roots,' explains Rachel Crow, garden editor for Homes & Gardens. 'They grow proportionately to the tree to provide nutrients and structure, allowing the plant to stand sturdily in the ground. 

'Trees are secured into the ground using their expansive roots. These structural roots are often dense and thicker than others, which begin at the base of the tree and flare out to cover  the ground area around it. These structural roots are at their strongest closest to the base of the tree and are vital to keeping the tree upright,' Rachel warns. 

While it may be tempting to remove roots to help with your yard's appearance or landscaping around trees removing any sections of these vital structures unnecessarily could lead to the tree dying or eventually collapsing under the strain of strong winds or rain. If your tree is close to your home, neighbors' homes, or other important structures, this could be incredibly dangerous. When learning how to plant trees it is important to consider where the roots of the tree will spread out to, and plant it far enough away from key structures so that root networks will not cause you issues in the future. 

'Cutting tree roots of a living tree can cause undue stress which may lead to disease and pests,' Rachel continues. 'Fungal infections are particularly likely and many mature trees might not survive a combined attack. What's more, these diseases may easily spread throughout your garden ideas, swiftly infecting your other plants.'

Why you should never kill tree roots above the ground

A large tree in a feild

(Image credit: Alamy)

'There is little you can do about tree roots that have emerged from underground,' says Rachel, 'as these tend to emerge near the base of the tree where their support is needed most. These roots often do not pose a threat to surrounding structures, however,' she continues, 'so leaving them intact is in your and the tree's best interests.'

Experts vary their advice when it comes to covering exposed tree roots, so whether you cover them up or not is down to personal preference and, sometimes, the type of tree you have. 

Roots, even above ground, require ample air to release and absorb gasses, so covering them too thickly could weaken the tree slightly. If you have minimal roots exposed this is unlikely to have a large enough effect on the tree's overall health, but a tree with a large portion of its roots exposed could feel more of an effect. 

If you do choose to cover your tree roots, there are a few options. Mulch is an ideal option for allowing the roots to continue to breathe if required, however adding a thinner layer of compost and topsoil along with planting grass seed could help to lightly cover the roots more seamlessly,

Can you remove roots without killing the tree?

You can remove sections of tree root without killing the tree if the process is carried out carefully using the correct tools. To remove a root, cut it from the tree and dig out as much as you can. Using a root killer, paint the substance onto the cut end of the root, avoiding getting any on the tree itself or other, healthy roots that you wish to maintain. 

Can grass grow over tree roots?

It is difficult for grass to grow over or around tree roots as they compete for vital resources. If you want grass to run around your tree base, consider using a different grass seed that thrives in lower light levels with less competitive traits so you can leave your tree and its roots in place.

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.