The Perfect Flowering Coverage For Your Tree’s Above Ground Roots

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The Perfect Flowering Coverage For Your Tree's Above Ground Roots

The root system that protrudes from the soil around your trees is crucial for their overall health. While some people believe that these roots should be covered, it’s important to note that too much soil and mulch can suffocate the roots, putting the tree in danger. If you don’t want to see the roots, you can choose a flowering plant that thrives in small amounts of soil, giving you the best of both worlds. Creeping phlox is an excellent choice for this purpose.

Creeping phlox is available in various colors and grows by spreading over the top of the soil, requiring only a few inches of dirt to sustain its growth. The plant is lush and creates a ground-cover effect that is attractive. It also helps to conceal the root system of the tree above, making for an excellent pairing of the two plants. This combination can look just as beautiful as a perfectly mounded mulch base around the tree.

However, before you plant anything around the roots of a tree, it’s crucial to understand its purpose and what the roots require. Additionally, you want to ensure that anything you plant above the roots allows for ample air circulation and easy expansion of the roots. That’s why small plugs of creeping phlox work so well to give you the desired look without harming the tree.

The function of those close-to-the-top roots

Creeping phlox around trees

Anne Katherine Jones/Shutterstock

You may know that tree roots creeping slowly away from the trunk in their search for water and nutrients. Though most of the tree’s root system is deep underground, many other branches are just under or on top of the soil, allowing the tree to pull in the oxygen it needs. The above-ground roots are typically present when there’s less oxygen in the soil itself, often due to the soil being very compact or limited near the tree. The roots grow upward, then reach above the dirt as a way to get access to the air it needs.

Over time, these surface roots are likely to become more pronounced. While one or two small roots above the dirt may not be bothersome, when a large, growing mound of them is evident, it can detract from the look you are trying to create with the rest of your landscaping. Note though, that if the roots are causing foundation issues, you shouldn’t just remove the roots. Consider removing the whole tree.

These roots may be bothersome in the way they look, though they are not a sign of disease or stress to the tree itself. They can create a tripping hazard and may make the tree look old and damaged. If that is the case, there are a few things you can do to support the tree and root system while helping its aesthetics.

Why creeping phlox and other ground cover can help

Phlox around tree

Mark Herreid/Shutterstock

You can cover some of the roots with a loose layer of mulch, keeping it at no more than a couple of inches on top of the roots themselves. Then, with that small amount of dirt and mulch present, add the creeping phlox or another type of ground cover that doesn’t require much soil and does well in the shade.

The ground cover will eventually spread over the top of the root system without penetrating deeply into the soil. More so, because creeping phlox is a very open and airy plant itself, it can encourage good airflow throughout the system. Only plant a few ground plugs in the area, and allow them to spread naturally. Overplanting this region will create too much matting, causing the suffocation you are trying to avoid.

Avoid planting anything that requires you to dig significantly in the soil since it may damage the root system. Instead, look for plants that are easily plugged into the ground to create the protection you need. You can purchase creeping phlox ground plugs in the spring months and plant them according to the directions provided by the grower. The good news is these are fast-growing plants that can give your tree a brand-new, impressively beautiful look without damaging the roots.

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Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.