What You Should Do About Exposed Tree Roots

One of our Franchise Owners received some pictures of an all too common problem in many home landscapes – exposed roots under a tree. The customer wanted to know what could be done in order to grow grass or even cover the roots so that it is easier to mow in that area.


As you can see from the picture, there is almost no grass growing under the canopy of the tree and there are a number of exposed roots. For this particular situation, my suggestion would be to forget about growing grass under this tree.  It obviously is too shady to support good turf growth.

If you are thinking about adding soil to cover the roots only add an inch or so of good quality top soil, and avoid the cheap $.99 per bag soil. What you don’t want to do is cover the roots with several inches of soil, which will deprive the feeder roots, located just under the soil, of oxygen and water.

However, the better suggestion is to cover the roots with twice chipped wood chips or pine straw.  Avoid spreading a composted material over the roots like mushroom compost. This material is great, but it does hold an excessive amount of moisture that could lead to root rots or other problems since the roots that are under the mulch still need oxygen and moisture.

Spread about a two inch layer of wood chips or pine straw over the area. In this situation, I would cover the entire area under the tree with that type of mulch. In the foreground of the picture, the grass is very thin and it appears that there is moss growing in the area. This tells me that there is another tree close by, adding to the shade problem.  This customer may need to extend the mulch bed to encompass areas around both trees. That means less mowing on the customer’s part.

The grass that is growing under the trees should be removed by digging it out. Avoid using a non-selective grass control like Round-Up if there are numerous exposed roots. It is better to carefully dig out the grass without damaging the feeder roots as best as possible and then add the mulch. Any grasses that do poke through later in the year can be spot sprayed with Round-Up.

Trees are great to have in our yards, but trees do grow, which may mean you have to change the layout of your landscape as time goes by. Change is a good thing and it allows you the opportunity to install new and different plants.  Remember, a landscape is a living thing and it needs attention, especially when the environment changes.

Do you have question about your trees and and their roots? Contact your local Spring-Green for more information.

How to Grow Grass in Shady Areas

Does your lawn look like the picture below? Is it thin, bumpy, and looking overall just bad? Finally, are there a number of trees shading the ground underneath? Trying to grow grass in a shady area can be a challenge even for the most hardcore lawn enthusiast, let alone the weekend warrior.

Follow these steps to better your chances of growing grass in the shady areas of your lawn.

growing grass in shady areas

The first thing to understand is that there are situations where the shade is so dense that you just can’t get grass to grow well. It is possible to get some grass to germinate and it may look okay for a while, but by mid-summer the lawn begins to thin out, and by fall it looks like it did in the early spring.

Provide More Sunlight

If you are up to the challenge, the first thing you need to do is to prune your trees to allow more sunlight to reach the turf. Most grasses require 6 to 8 hours of direct sun to grow well. If the area receives less than that, well, it is going to be more challenging. The difficulty with pruning is deciding what to cut, how much to cut, how to cut. If you are not sure how to handle this job properly, it is often better to hire a professional tree care company.

Planting Grass Seed

The next thing you have to do is decide on what type of seed you wish to plant. In the cool-season grass areas, the grass that works the best in shady areas is Fine Fescue. In the Transition zone, Tall Fescue will do okay in the shade. In warm-season grass areas, St. Augustine is the most shade-tolerant, although I have seen homeowners plant Tall Fescue with fairly good results in shady areas. The problem with most warm-season grasses is that the germination of the seed is poor at best. The better choice is to use sod or switch to Tall Fescue seed.

You have to prepare the soil prior to planting. Broadcasting seed across the area will often result in providing a meal for the birds, but not much in the way of germination. The best thing to do is to core aerate the area first and then broadcast seed. The seed will often end up in the aeration holes where is actually has a better chance of germinating as well as surviving as it grows.

Water the Area

The number one reason as to why seed does not grow is because it is not watered on a consistent basis. Most people start off well and keep the area moist for two or three days, but then life gets busy and the area is not watered for three or four days. Once the seed germinates, it sends out a very short root. If that root cannot come into contact with water quickly, within an hour or so, it will dry out. You should plan on keeping the area moist for at least two weeks. The one good thing about shady areas is that they will not dry out as quickly as full sun areas, but if it gets warm, it will still need water.

Mow Correctly

Shady areas should always be mowed higher than the sunny parts of a lawn. If you don’t want to keep adjusting the mowing height for different parts of the lawn, mow the whole lawn at the higher level. Your lawn will do better in the long run if it mowed high.

Fertilize, But Not Too Much

The newly seeded area should be fertilized to help the new seed develop a strong root system, but it needs less than the sunny parts of the lawn. Too much fertilizer on shady lawns is a waste of fertilizer and can actually harm the grass if the level is too high. Apply about half the amount of fertilizer that you would apply to the full sun parts of your lawn. Weeds may still be a problem, so spot spray them, but wait until the new grass has been up and growing for about 6 weeks before doing so.

Alternative Options

If the seeding does not work, it may be time to switch to using more mulch and shade-loving plants in the area. There are a plethora of these plants on the market, such as hostas, pachysandra, vinca, ivies, etc. Check your local nursery or garden center for plants that grow in the shade. Grass is nice, but sometimes you just have to choose your battles and win the ones that have a higher probability of success rather than growing grass in the shade.

It’s Seedin’ Time! – Core Aeration and Overseeding a Lawn in the Fall

On-Page Core & Overseed

For those people who live in the northern climates and grow cool-season grasses in their lawns, late summer into early fall is the best time for overseeding a lawn. The summer takes its toll on cool season grasses, such as bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fine fescues and tall fescue, and they often become thinned out due to heat, drought, insect feeding and damage from diseases. Almost every cool-season lawn would benefit from being overseeded at this time of year.

Successful overseeding requires more than just spreading some seed across your lawn. In order for the seed to have a chance to germinate and survive, it needs to come into contact with soil and receive water on a regular basis. Core aeration is the best way of doing this. A core aerator will pull plugs of soil and thatch from your lawn and leave them back on top. This is a good thing.

First, as the soil breaks down and intermingles with the existing thatch layer, the micro-organisms in the soil will feed on the thatch to break it down.

Second, the holes left behind are a great reservoir for the seed that will be spread across the lawn. As the lawn is watered, the seed will wash down into the holes. The soil within the holes will stay moist for a longer time and provide a great place for the seed to germinate. The best part about it is that as the holes collapse, the plant will rise up to the surface with a well-established root system.

Seed germination rates vary based on the type of grass used. Ryegrass, fine fescue and tall fescue germinate within 10 days after sowing. Bluegrass takes about 3 to 4 weeks to germinate, so if you are planting bluegrass, be sure to stay on top of the watering for at least four weeks.

What is that Strange Looking Weed in my Yard?


This is the time of year that most grasses “go to seed.” It is a normal process and usually a sign of healthy growing grass. Seeing all those seed heads can be a mystery to some people and they think their lawn is being overrun by some weird weed. I assure you that what you are seeing is not a weed. It is just seed heads, a normal component of grass seeding.

My customers have told me that they don’t collect the clippings when the grass goes to seed so that they can “re-seed their lawn.” It is a nice thought and I am glad that they are leaving the clippings on the lawn to recycle the nutrients, but the seed is not mature enough to contribute to seeding a lawn. The grass would have to be left to grow to full maturity and dry out for the seed to be viable to reseed the lawn. Still, it is a good thought on their part. After your lawn goes to seed and you have mown off the seed heads, the stalks will be left behind.

They will turn a tan color and, depending on the amount of seed heads that have been produced, can leave your lawn looking a little rough until the stalks break off. It also seems that the lawn looks a little thin as it has used up a good deal of energy to produce the seed heads. Give it a week or so and it will come back fairly well. Be sure to continue water as needed, mow high and follow your normal lawn fertilization program.

How to Deal with Grass Not Growing in a Shady Area

There are certain situations where growing grass is impossible-for example, the area under a tree that has a large, dense canopy or on the north side of a house or other structure that doesn’t let in enough light for the grass to grow. In these situations, your only alternatives are to remove what grass might still be remaining and switch to a ground cover that can withstand dense shade, or use mulch, or a combination of the two.

Add Ground Covers to the Shady Area

There are many groundcovers that are shade tolerant. The evergreen varieties are Vinca, Pachysandra, Liriope, Wintercreeper, English Ivy and Ajuga. If you prefer non-evergreen plants, you can use hostas, goutweed, wild ginger, violets and lily-of-the-valley. You may be able to find other types of shade tolerant plants by visiting your local garden center.

There are a couple different factors that you have to take into account when deciding to plant a ground cover underneath a tree or similar type of densely shaded area. Depending upon the type of soil you have in an area or the type of tree that is growing in the area, there may be roots that will compete for space and moisture with the ground cover. The area may need to be watered more often than other parts of the lawn or landscape. Adding quality mulch to the area prior to planting will help hold in moisture and make the area more attractive. Make sure that the mulch does not cover the base of the tree, resulting in what is often called a “mulch volcano.”

Remove Excess Leaves

Another important factor to take into consideration is the leaves that may fall from a tree. It is not a good idea to totally cover evergreen ground covers with leaves. Leaving a thin layer of leaves is fine, but do not cover the entire plant. Large leaves, such as from a maple tree, will have a tendency to matt down during the winter months. Use a leaf blower or lightly rake the excess leaves off of the plants.

How Many Ground Cover Plants Should I Use?

Many people wonder how many plants they should put in an area. That really depends upon the type of plant that is being used and amount of area that you want to cover. As a general rule of thumb, a quick cover can be achieved by placing plants six inches apart. The easiest way to do this is to determine the area in inches and divide it by six. That will give you an idea of how many plants you’re going to need to fill in the area. In some cases tree roots may make it difficult to plant across the entire area. In these types of situations it may be better to plant the ground covers in sections to allow them to fill in overtime.

Even shade tolerant plants may not prosper if some sunlight does not filter down to the area. In these situations, it may be better to put in mulch or decorative stones. It may not be as attractive as an area filled in with living plants, but at least you can keep the soil from eroding and prevent weeds from growing in the area.

If you still have questions, or you need some help choosing the right ground cover plant for your landscape, leave it up to the experts. Contact your local Spring-Green lawn care professional for help with maintaining your lawn and landscape.