Can I Cover Tree Roots With Soil?

October 21, 2012 | By | Comments (6)
Live oak with Spanish moss

Live oak with Spanish moss. Photo by Ralph Anderson.

Question from Desperate Reader: I have a 40 year-old live oak with unsightly, exposed roots on the soil surface. We’re afraid someone may trip. Can we make a flower bed over the roots?

Grumpy’s Totally Correct Answer: Trees in general do not like having soil piled over the roots. The roots need to “breathe” — a deep layer of soil smothers them. Some trees, like pines, are less sensitive to this, but oaks a very sensitive. Pile any soil at all atop the roots and pretty soon, the trees will die. So no flower garden.

Your situation isn’t hopeless, however. What you need to do is cover the roots with material that doesn’t compact like soil and prevent oxygen from reaching the roots. Therefore, you could fill between the roots with several inches of coarse gravel, river stones, pine straw, or shredded bark.

Grumpy’s on Vacay!


Isle of Santorini. Photo by HBarrison.

That’s right! For the next couple of weeks, Grumpy will be cruising to exotic locales all over the known world as he seeks to recharge his gardening batteries. He will not be able to check email during this time, so either wait until October 29 to post a gardening question or wait patiently for an answer.

Don’t think Grumpy has abandoned you. In the time I’m away, I will be answering a gardening question sent in by a faithful reader right here every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.

Now could I please have another glass of red?


Next Post: Preparing the Soil for Next Spring


  1. Steve Bender

    He is correct.

    November 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm
  2. rebecca beisenstein

    what belongs under trees are the leaves that fall from those trees…just a recommendation from a certified arborist.

    November 8, 2012 at 8:36 am
  3. Grumpy Gardener

    Very little is going to grow above the thick mat of surface roots. Your best bet is simply to mulch under the tree.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:50 am
  4. Taylor

    What can I use to cover the roots of my magnolia tree? Would like to plant a bed there, but would settle for soil or mulch. Any recommendations?

    November 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm
  5. Steve Bender

    I would plant petunias, pansies, violas, snapdragons, callibrachoas, poppies, kalanchoes, and ornamental cabbage and kale.

    October 31, 2012 at 1:22 pm
  6. Dee Herschleb

    Hi We are Florida snowbirds with a cement (hot) porch (no roof approx 12 x 20 ft). I would like to add some hardy inexpensive greens and flowers — Oct. thru March. I have a small patio table on the porch Any sugessions?
    Thank you

    October 24, 2012 at 8:36 pm

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