Question of the Week – Number 2: August 6, 2020

“I don’t like the looks of all the roots beneath my Natchez crape myrtle. Can I cover them with soil?”

I get this question scores of times every year pertaining to live oaks, cottonwoods, pecans and other large shade trees.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen quite so many exposed roots beneath a crape myrtle. I saw this in person a week ago in the Metroplex. I have to confess, I’d come as close to adding 1 inch of topsoil to this one specific plant as with any tree I’ve ever seen. I do have the feeling there might have been slow erosion around these roots. You can always replace eroded soil.

Surface roots are not nearly as common when it comes to crape myrtles. But I’ve never varied my answer, and I don’t think I want to do so now, either.

I always point out to people that trees (and large shrubs like crape myrtles) have 90 percent of their roots in the top foot of soil so that they can receive water when it rains.

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When we start adding inches of soil up around their roots, and when those roots start growing larger, it becomes a never-ending process and we never win the race. We add more soil and the roots grow out of that new soil, too. Or we suffocate the roots and the tree dies. Either way, we’re left with a mess.

My solution in a situation like this is to trim away any of the hazardous roots and learn to live with the others. If they’re still unsightly, then plant a groundcover that will be tall enough to conceal them. Mondograss and liriope are two clump-forming types that would be very attractive, or you could use Asian jasmine or purple wintercreeper euonymus. Both produce trailing vines that would grow up and over the exposed roots.

Those are my simple solutions to a problem that has baffled thousands for years. Hope they help.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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