Small roots, small problem; big roots, well, you might need to call someone
Tree roots in your lawn may seem nothing more than an occasional tripping hazard or nuisance when you mow your lawn. But in actuality, surface-level roots can become a real threat if they grow in the wrong directions—which can lead to seriously expensive repairs.
Plumbing problems, foul odors in your yard, leaky pipes, and even foundation issues are all possible when strong, thick tree roots make their way toward your home.
Luckily, you can employ some DIY techniques for small roots if you catch the problem early. In this DIY guide, learn how to assess tree root problems in your yard and what signs to look for that might warrant calling in professional help.
Why Should I Get Rid of Tree Roots In My Lawn?
Trees can really add value to your property, but what's happening underneath the surface could be causing significant damage to the surrounding area, particularly your lawn.
For example, tree roots can get close to your home's plumbing as they grow. If a pipe leaks, the tree root may seek out that water source and cause further damage to the pipes.
Tree roots can also grow into sewer lines, your home’s foundation, and sidewalks, leading to expensive repairs.
Dealing with errant or mischief-causing tree roots before they get out of hand could save you thousands of dollars in costly repairs.
How Much Does It Cost to Get Rid of Tree Roots?
There are many ways to get rid of trees (and tree roots), so the price you pay if you hire someone will be contingent on your approach. The average cost for tree removal (including roots) is around $700, but your situation may not require you to take out the whole tree.
DIY approaches for killing tree roots, like sprinkling Epsom salt or rock salt, may cost under $30. However, tackling the job yourself comes with risk. (More on that in a moment).
How to Deal With Tree Roots In Your Lawn
We’re all for saving cash and tackling home improvement projects yourself. But when it comes to surface roots, it’s best to figure out exactly what the problem is before you start chopping, pruning, sprinkling salt, or using chemicals.
These steps will help you decide if you truly need to deal with exposed tree roots in your yard. From there, we’ll look at how you might handle the issue yourself if it’s feasible.
1. Carefully Check Your Home’s Foundation
Most roots aren't robust enough to affect a concrete foundation, but some—especially fully matured large trees like oak or poplar trees—are powerful enough to cause soil to shift and crack your foundation. Roots also shrink and expand depending on the weather, and they can weaken the foundation if they're large enough. This will result in tremendous problems for you as a homeowner that'll be difficult to fix, so it's essential to address them early.
Look for roots along your foundation by picking a spot (or spots) 3 to 5 feet away from your foundation. Dig 12 to 24 inches and look for roots touching your home or wrapping along the edges. Check your basement for vertical cracks in the wall and cracks along the floor. Broken windows or window frames, doors sitting awkwardly, and bowing of the floor or walls are also signs of tree root problems that need to be addressed immediately.
Foundation issues can be very expensive to repair—and put your family at risk if you repair them incorrectly. For these reasons, it’s best to hire a foundation repair expert to repair any damage caused by tree roots.
2. Look For Standing Water and Discolored Grass
Pipe damage is the second big issue that tree roots in a lawn can cause. Carefully inspect your lawn for pools of standing water or grass that are greener in one spot due to much higher irrigation levels. You may even hear running water or notice a spike in your utility bill.
To get rid of standing water, you may need to install a drainage system, regrade your yard, or change your soil composition. A quick fix could be filling the area with topsoil to soak it up, but this may not solve the problem.
Instead, a landscaper near you may be able to help offer a long-term solution to this problem, including hiring a local tree removal pro.
3. Check for Foul Odors
Sewer line damage is a third issue that tree roots in a lawn can cause. If you start noticing a foul odor in your yard or see that your home’s toilets are flushing differently—or, worst-case scenario, raw sewage starts to collect in your yard—you may have a serious tree root problem that needs to be addressed.
A local emergency plumber should handle any situation involving raw sewage. You may also need to call in a health expert to assess the state of your yard.
4. See If Tree Roots Are Causing Drainage Issues
The final issue tree roots in your lawn may create involves your home’s plumbing. For example, a leaky pipe or poorly draining sink could be caused by a tree root that’s grown in the direction of your home’s plumbing—or even up it.
This problem is particularly difficult for homeowners because the issue is tough to diagnose. A homeowner will typically assume it's a clog and try to dump chemicals down the drain to dislodge it, all with no effect. If you suspect tree roots to be the issue, your best bet is to call in a plumber.
Taking Care of Tree Roots In Your Lawn
You’ve taken the time to understand your situation, and it seems minor. What now? Well, DIY tree root removal is definitely possible. There are a number of ways to kill tree roots around your home.
Some of the popular methods for tree root removal are:
Manual removal with a saw
Sprinkling rock or Epsom salt
Chemical herbicides made with glyphosate*
Root pruning inside the drip line (with the help of a professional, so as not to kill the tree itself)
Pruning the smaller edges of roots before they become out of hand
Mulching old tree roots and turning them into a garden bed
Replanting the tree (if it’s feasible without killing it; consult a professional)
*For safety, use goggles and gloves when spreading chemicals, even in small sections.
If roots keep growing back, ultimately, your problem may be that you need to remove the trees themselves. Removing the stump using a stump grinder or other technique is important, as a stump with planted roots will keep coming back until you get rid of it.
DIY vs. Hire a Pro
If you care about the trees in your yard and aren’t sure what you’re doing—or you suspect tree roots are messing with your foundation or plumbing—we strongly recommend hiring a pro.
If removal is the only thing you care about and you are confident enough to tackle the matter DIY, you could save hundreds, if not thousands, by pruning or drying out the roots yourself.
D.P. Taylor contributed to this piece.
Frequently Asked Questions
Surface-level tree roots might only pose a small threat, such as being a tripping hazard or obstacle when you mow your lawn. But if mature tree roots start growing in the direction of your home’s foundation or plumbing system, it could be a real problem. Cutting small tree roots out before they grow too large can keep your home safe without removing the whole tree.
If you aren’t sure what you’re doing, be very careful when cutting mature tree roots (roots larger than 2 inches). Root cutting and pruning can affect both a tree’s stability and its ability to nourish itself. Issues during root cutting can result in damage or injury.
It’s recommended you call in a pro to help, unless it’s a very small tree and you aren’t worried about the prospect of losing the tree.
Most chemical treatments that kill roots will also damage the grass around it—including more natural substances like Epsom salt. In this case, cutting tree roots is probably your best bet if you want to preserve the grass. Use caution before you cut or prune roots to make sure you know what you’re cutting and know the risks if you make an error.