Removing Tree Roots Without Killing The Tree Guide

It’s good to get rid of tree roots without harming the tree when they grow up out of your grass, clog your pipes, or push through your pathway.

Taking a quick look, the simplest way to kill and remove a tree root without destroying the tree, dig around the root using a shovel or pick and remove the tree’s root.

However, most tree roots die when cut, and besides, certain roots require treatment with a tree killer. Tree killer should be applied to the cut root, and you should make sure no tree killer is used on any part of the tree connected to the tree.

You may need to eliminate the roots without killing the tree for a variety of reasons.

In our guide, you can learn more about cutting tree roots without killing tree. By the end, you’ll have more than enough information to know how to stop tree roots from growing back and causing more problems. (Read What Dissolves Tree Roots In Sewer Lines)

Remove Tree Roots Without Killing Tree

Can You Remove Tree Roots Without Killing Tree?

Cutting and removing roots can be done without crippling or killing your tree. Trunk Proximity – The closer the roots are cut to the trunk, the more substantial and severe the damage to your tree will be. The 25 percent rule states that only 25% of a tree’s roots should be removed. The tree will die or fall, or both, soon.

Surface roots outside the drip line can be removed, as can any exposed roots outside the drip line. These can be removed without affecting the tree’s stability.

While cutting may appear the best solution, the chances of infection are high and could lead to the decay or death of your tree.

To be sure you deal with exposed roots in the right way, there is a formula you can use to determine how much you can safely cut and prune roots from the tree trunk.

Trunk diameter x 10 = The minimum safe distance for root pruning.

In reality, if you have a trunk diameter of 30-inches, the closest you can cut roots without causing more issues would be 300 inches (25 feet) from the trunk.

If it is just exposed roots you are dealing with; you can deal with exposed tree roots. Here are a few ways you can hide the problem without resorting to root removal.

Raise Lawn Surface Level

Another option is to bring in a couple of truckloads of topsoil to boost the level of your lawn’s surface.

This may need to be done on a few trips if your exposed tree roots breach the surface by several inches. The best time to do this is in the spring, so your grass grows through before you cover the tree root with topsoil again. (Learn How To Trim A Palm Tree)

Garden bed with mulch

Create Mulch Garden Bed

If your exposed tree roots are close to the trunk, another simple solution is to make a garden bed with mulch.

Order as much wood chip as is required to cover the area thoroughly. If the chip is thicker than 3 inches, the roots cannot breathe or get water.

Your problem will be fixed once the mulch has been spread.

However, it would help if you never piled mulch around the base of your tree as it traps moisture and leads to rot, which can harm your tree’s trunk and eventually cause it to topple. (Read Best Mulch For Vegetable Garden)

Use Dirt to Cover Exposed Tree Roots

Covering the roots with dirt or topsoil is a quick, straightforward, and inexpensive solution compared to tree removal or even root removal.

It is unlikely the roots or tree will be harmed if the earth is compacted too tightly to allow water and air to penetrate.

However, putting an extensive amount of dirt over the top of exposed roots could restrict oxygen, thus causing suffering. You should be OK if the dirt is only 3 inches thick.

Why Do Tree Roots Come To The Surface?

Liquidambars have more surface-breaching roots than other plants. Also, keep in mind that the roots of your tree are shallower than you might imagine; in most situations, the roots are only 4-8 inches below the surface.

Because that’s where all the water comes from, tree roots stay close to the surface. There is one that delves deeper in quest of water and moisture, but the vast majority of roots are near to the surface. (Learn How To Make A Tree Swing)

A few reasons roots breach the surface are:

  • Soil erosion: One of the most critical causes for the roots to emerge is this. Rainwater and wind can erode several inches of soil in your yard, exposing roots that were previously hidden beneath the surface.
  • Survival: It could be a tree’s survival mechanism. If your yard’s soil is inadequately drained, the tree’s roots will emerge above ground in quest of moisture and oxygen.
  • Nearby structure: Buildings or other structures can affect the tree’s natural root system and lead to exposed roots as the tree seeks a way around the obstruction.
  • Soil Compaction: Compacting the soil to lay a lawn or changing the landscape can also bring the roots to the surface.

Roots breach the surface

Is It OK To Remove Exposed Tree Roots?

Physically removing exposed tree roots from large trees is not recommended if you wish to eliminate them.

Trees rely on their root systems for water, nutrients, and stability, which is critical for their safety and those living close to such large trees.

For aesthetic reasons, try to avoid cutting visible tree roots above surface level.

Roots will sprout in difficult areas in their ongoing search for moisture and nutrition, hence the reason they can damage your home’s foundation and lead to complete tree removal.

Besides this, roots adjust and vary their growth behavior based on soil compaction and quality.

Please take a minute to study the importance of the roots in connection to the tree’s health before killing, removing, or cutting them, whether they are surface roots or harmful underground roots.

The root system accounts for more than a quarter of a mature tree’s mass.

Most of those roots are found 6 to 18 inches beneath the surface of the ground.

Injured roots are more likely to become infected or infested. This has a direct impact on the tree’s health, potentially leading to its decline and death.

Below ground, there are two types of roots:

  • Feeder Roots: These roots transfer and store moisture and nutrients taken from the soil.
  • Structural Roots: Trees use this root structure for stability or to anchor the tree to the ground. You’ll find these are the larger roots that can often break above the surface level.

Does Cutting Tree Roots Damage Tree?

Roots can come up through the earth and cause issues with foundations and pathways. Cutting tree roots is risky because it might hurt your tree permanently and even kill it. To avoid causing damage to your tree, you must first understand the roots you’re cutting and how the cuts will influence your tree.

A typical rule is not to cut more than 25% of the root system when cutting tree roots.

Another idea is to imagine the tree’s drip line as a pie and chop out 1/4 of the pie. It’s critical to keep as far away from the stem as possible and avoid cutting roots inside the drip line.

Make clean root cuttings with loppers, or a sharp hand saw to prevent any ragged root ends. Aim to prune down to the branch collar as if trimming a tree. You’ll discover clean cuts heal faster and establish a seal to keep disease out.

The first 18 inches of soil handle nutrient intake, so try not to dig or compact any of these roots with vehicles or large equipment.

Keep a layer of mulch or leaf debris around the drip line roots. This helps retain soil and moisture and breaks down organic matter to provide soil nutrients to the delicate roots.

Avoid cutting any huge, exposed roots as the larger roots offer the tree some structure. Cutting large roots on one side of the tree increases the risk of the tree toppling in a storm as large, exposed tree roots on the backside help support to stop the tree falling. (Learn How To Kill A Tree Secretly)

How Do You Permanently Get Rid of Tree Roots?

You may kill and remove some of the troublesome roots from a tree whose roots are becoming a nuisance by growing above ground or in undesirable locations.

When killing tree roots, employ caution because cutting the roots may kill the tree. Avoid touching any of the tree root within a distance of three to five times the diameter of the tree’s trunk in the ground to reduce the possibility of it dying.

Step-by-step process to cut tree roots:

  1. Use colored chalk or spray paint to mark roots you want to cut. You can prevent cutting too many roots by marking before you cut, which could stress or kill the tree. Skip this step if the roots you wish to cut aren’t visible above ground.
  2. Dig into the ground around the tree using a shovel to expose roots you want to kill. Remember, the closer the root is to the tree trunk at the time of removal, the more probable it is to cause damage to the tree.
  3. Brush soil away from the root using your hands and beneath the root using a trowel to make cutting easier. Digging by hand may expose the roots of shallow-rooted trees.
  4. Using a hatchet or root saw, cut through the root. Using a pair of pruning shears, clip through tiny roots smaller than 1 inch in diameter.
  5. Using your shovel or trowel, dig up the rest of the root leading away from the tree. Cut the root into parts if it’s incredibly long.
  6. Fill the hole where the root was removed with earth and firmly press it down with your hands or feet.
  7. To avoid causing severe tree damage, carefully cut one or two roots at a time.
  8. Monitor the tree for a few weeks to see whether root dying and root removal are causing damage to your tree.
  9. If the tree’s branches die or the tree tilts, you may need to cut it down and have complete tree removal.

Kill all the roots in the pipe without killing the the tree

Roots In Sewer Line

Tree roots are renowned for obstructing pipelines to gain access to the water and nutrients contained within.

The most vulnerable pipes and drain lines are sewer and drain lines. The main reason for this is that they frequently have openings through which roots might enter.

The most long-term approach for root control in sewer pipes is to replace them, although this can be very expensive.

Use a tree root killer like Copper Sulfate to cause root damage in sewer lines or drains temporarily. It will kill all the roots in the pipe without killing the rest of the tree if you pour it down your toilet or drain.

If you have a sidewalk lifting, it is often the case you can lift the pavers and level the ground before replacing the sidewalk pavers to be level again. The process is straightforward and only gets tricky when the roots are exposed on the landscape, or the tree species will cause more issues later.


Aspen species are among the largest living organisms and are one tree connected by the roots. Herbicides can destroy huge aspen trees in your yard, so you have two alternatives. You can dig up and eliminate roots or mow your lawn weekly and stop spread and growth in your yard.

Digging up aspen roots can cause rapid growth and the same problem. Keep your exposed aspen shoots mowed to stop the spread around your yard landscape.

Poplars & Cottonwoods

Poplars and cottonwoods are cousins. Both produce seeds and branches from their roots. Cutting suckers with pruning shears or your lawn mower is the safest technique to kill them without harming the primary tree.

It’s hard to tell if they’re seeds or roots but using pruning shears is the best choice for how to kill tree roots popping up outside the trees canopy.


Elm roots rarely send up suckers. So, you can use chemicals to kill them.

Mow the ones that sprout up on your grass. Missing ones can be sprayed with herbicide—just mix and squirt. Remove and treat elm trees over 4 feet with a tree killer like Tordon.

You should now know the best approach of how to kill tree roots without killing the tree.

Removing Tree Roots Without Killing The Tree Guide

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