Pesky Tree Roots
Roger's advice to a frustrated mower
I have a "Crimson King" Norway maple with so many roots at the surface that I'm concerned about hitting them with my lawn mower. Can I remove these roots without putting the tree in danger?
— Edward, New Bedford, MA
Roger Cook replies: Sometimes you can solve this kind of problem by cutting roots away, but I try to avoid that. Whatever you cut will usually push out more roots, making the problem worse, and there's always a risk of harming the tree itself.
Instead, I'd remove the grass entirely. It usually doesn't do very well underneath a large tree anyway because the tree's canopy casts so much shade and its root mass sucks up moisture. Removing the grass also means less to mow. You can turn the area into a planting bed for an aggressive ground cover like Baltic ivy, epimedium, or lamiastrum, or you can simply mulch it. Just don't let the mulch build up more than 3 inches deep, and keep it from direct contact with the trunk.