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I have some large trees in my yard with surface roots. In some cases the roots are not a problem, but in others they create a trip hazard and make mowing problematic so I am considering cutting them out. I have heard that removing surface roots does not harm the tree and I can believe it because I have read that the amount of roots below the ground is the same as the amount of stuff above the ground. So, if that is true, there are a helluva a lot of roots down there for a hundred foot tree, so cutting a few roots on the surface should not make a difference...

but anyway I thought I would ask to make sure before take irreversible action.

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  • Which tree? But no, some trees have deeper roots (but it depends also on the soil), and some have mostly superficial roots.Nutrients could also be just on surface (and rocks/sand under). So we need more information on your tree and soil (and maybe a photo of the roots) – Giacomo Catenazzi Apr 23 '19 at 7:34
  • Are you talking about buttress roots, or other, smaller, more fibrous root systems? I think some photos would be helpful... – Bamboo Apr 23 '19 at 10:22
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Large trees like it just the way it is. I have seen numerous trees killed or put into slow decline by trenching, cutting roots or even just driving heavy equipment over the area under the drip line.

Depending on soil, type of tree and what exactly you plan to do you might get away with cutting up to one third of the roots. No guarantees...

You would probably find it cheaper and less risky to top dress twice a year with a half inch of compost. In a few years the roots will not be a trip hazard and there is little risk of killing the tree.

Here are some resources you may find interesting although the first one suggests putting sod over tree roots which is not a good idea in most parts of the United States and Canada.

Root pruning guidelines Planting under trees

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