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9 Creative Landscaping Ideas Around Tree Roots [Moss, Mulch, and Fairy Villages!]

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If you have exposed tree roots in your garden, you may be searching for landscaping ideas around those roots. Well, look no further! We have several borderline-genius (and creative) landscaping ideas perfect for surface tree roots.

These shallow root landscaping methods are perfect for beautifying the bare areas around exposed roots. 

Our favorite root landscaping methods range from highlighting the beauty of the roots with a moss garden to safely covering the exposed roots and surrounding area with mulch. We even discuss building a deck (or fairy village) around the tree roots!

And no worries. The following landscaping ideas for tree roots will never hurt your tree’s root system. Some can even help support the tree, making it healthier and more robust.

Sound good?

Then let’s continue!

My Top 9 Best Tactics for Exposed Tree Root Landscaping

If you want to beautify the area around your tree without harming the exposed roots, you’re in the right place! The following methods, done correctly and carefully, will create a lovely scene around your tree without causing any harm. 

So, without further ado, let’s dig in! Let’s dig carefully, though, so we don’t harm the roots! 🙂

1. Fill In the Space with Moss

tree roots covered with thick moss layer
A thick layer of moss accents your tree’s exposed roots and can also add incredible character. We know many homesteaders stress about the presence of moss on trees. However, we’ve researched moss via several reliable sources, and most concur that moss does not harm trees. We also read that moss can even provide nitrogen for the trees.

Moss loves shade! So, filling bare space with a lovely moss species is a great idea. It can create a gorgeous look and help with erosion control. You can either collect the moss you need all at once or apply moss in patches around and on the tree roots and wait for it to spread.

 You don’t have to worry about the moss hurting the trees, as moss doesn’t grow true roots or steal nutrients. I think moss works best when you want to elevate the beauty of the exposed roots.

2. Mulch the Area

birch trees with mounds of fresh mulch
These birch trees look gorgeous dressed with mounds of fresh bark mulch. We love tree mulching since we learned from the UMass Extension blog that mulching your trees has several powerful benefits. Mulching can help attain water, helps protect your trees from the wintry elements, and potentially protect them from frost heave. (Frost heave occurs when the soil moisture continually freezes and thaws. This repeated expansion and contraction can push your trees and crops out of the soil!)

If you want to cover the roots and soil around the tree, mulching is quick and easy. You can choose mulch colors that will complement the rest of your garden, from light pink to black. Mulching helps cover the area, prevents damage to the roots, and assists with erosion control.

If the roots of your tree are markedly large, you may need to border the mulch. Either a stone or wooden border will work to keep the mulch in place.

Take note – you don’t want to go mulching crazy! You’ll only need to mulch just enough to cover the roots. Piling up mulch can cause too much moisture retention and may rot your exposed tree roots. Be sure to leave at least six inches of space around the tree trunk to allow the tree to breathe. 

You might get tempted to lay landscape fabric over the roots before applying the mulch, but try to avoid using landscape fabric directly on the roots as it will stifle the exposed tree roots and inhibit the crucial intake of air, water, and nutrients.

3. Create a Fairy Village with Tiny Plants and Statues!

magic wooden fairy door on tree trunk
Creating a fairy village is one the most compelling ways to add lively decor to your homestead – shallow tree roots or not! Fairy gardens are fun and allow your outdoor creativity to run wild. And if you’re up for some festive decor, we also published an excellent Christmas fairy garden guide to help kickstart your imagination.

I love the look of large, gnarled, exposed roots! They bring such a whimsical, mythical quality to a landscape. If you also adore your tree’s exposed roots, think about beautifying the exposed area around them. Consider creating a scene of tiny, shade-loving plants dotted with exotic pebble walkways and mini fairy homes!

Take extra care when planting around tree roots to not cause harm by digging too deep or close. Digging around your exposed tree roots is where looking toward tiny or shallow-rooted plants is super wise! Planting miniature terrarium plants and succulents only require minimal soil disturbance. And – it will help create that fairy wonderland scene.

Read More!

4. Use Rocks for Landscaping Around Your Tree

hosta plants and colorful coleus growing under a maple tree
We love the idea of using rocks to protect your tree’s shallow roots. But using rock mulch and small garden pebbles isn’t our favorite method. Instead of rock mulch – we like the idea of building a perimeter of rocks around the tree if it needs protection. You risk smothering the exposed tree roots if you use too much rock mulch! If you must cover your tree’s exposed roots, consider using a light layer of fresh tree bark mulch instead. (Bark mulch is one of our favorite organic mulches. And it’s far gentler than rock mulch.)

We prefer organic mulch over rock mulch. By far!

But you might be concerned that the tree’s exposed roots present a tripping hazard. Or you may want to help shield the exposed roots from the damage of being walked on or mowed over. If you don’t mind covering the tree roots, you can fill in the area around the tree with light pebbles or pea gravel. Or, you can leave the roots exposed and fill in the bare soil around the roots with tiny garden pebbles.

Another way to use rocks – is to create a rock perimeter around your tree. That way, you prevent visitors from stepping on the roots. And you don’t risk hurting the tree’s exposed roots with rock gravel.

It all depends on the look you want and your landscaping goals for the tree and surrounding landscape. If your roots are large and beautifully gnarled, you may want to highlight them. But, if they’re smaller and increasingly spindly, you might want to protect them from damage and create a prettier scene by covering them up. Use small, loosely packed pebbles.

Remember – whatever you do, don’t suffocate the roots!

5. Fill in Bare Space With Ground Cover

tree trunk with lively shade tolerant plants
Want to cover the exposed tree roots gently and organically? Then consider planting herbaceous ground cover crops! You have a multitude of options – but also several limitations. Remember that your established tree has massive roots hungrily sucking down boatloads of water and nutrients. And the tree’s canopy also snatches much of the sunlight! So – whatever understory crop you decide upon must tolerate low moisture and sunlight conditions.

Ground cover plants can be perfect for filling bare areas around tree roots. I love using low-growing, shade-loving ground cover for this application. Common periwinkle and creeping Jenny are some of my favorites! These plants have shallow root structures and spread outward, filling exposed spaces marvelously.

Just be sure to examine how much shade your tree is casting. The shade level around your exposed tree roots helps determine whether you should plant shade-loving ground cover crops or crops requiring partial sunlight. 

6. Plant Shallow-Rooted Shade Crops

landscaping with flowers and ferns around large tree
When researching which trees have the shallowest roots, we found an excellent guide from Wisconsin Horticulture about dealing with shallow roots. Their tree root guide says how willow, poplar, and silver maple trees have famously (or infamously) shallow roots. (We love the breathtaking tree canopy that silver maple trees offer!) But no matter which tree you harbor, you shouldn’t get too upset if you notice shallow roots. Most reliable sources we’ve studied say that adding a few inches of mulch is an excellent – yet temporary solution. (Remember, tree roots are surprisingly shallow. Even if you cover them with organic mulches now – they may resurface later.)

If you’d like to dot the area with plants rather than use a complete ground cover, you can turn to shallow-rooted shade plants. I love ferns, miniature hostas, and coral bells for this purpose. When planting around the tree roots, try to give at least six inches of room between the plant and the exposed roots. Providing six inches protects the tree root from damage when you dig into the soil.

Only dig as deep as you need to and only the minimum required width. Rather than using a wide-shaped gardening tool, consider using a narrower tool when digging your hole. Like this Berry & Bird weeding shovel!

7. Plant a Border Ring of Flowers

garden bed around tree trunk with red flowers
Here’s a beautiful example of how to cover exposed tree roots. You see a lovely garden bed with red begonias, green grass, and black colored mulch. The border edging looks elegant – and the gardener didn’t resort to using drastic measures. Of course – you will need to re-dress the garden bed with new mulch every so often as it deteriorates. And as the roots continue to re-emerge over time! We also love using pine needles as mulch. Also, we read from several reliable sources (including the University of New Hampshire Extension) that pine needles will not noticeably impact soil acidity. (We were worried about pine needle mulch at first. We thought only acidic-soil-loving plants tolerated pine needles. Good to know!)

A ring of flowers can help hide exposed areas around tree roots and complements mulching. However, planting annual flowers isn’t the best for the tree’s health. Using annuals requires you to dig around near the root system frequently. Instead, create a ring of potted annuals or opt for a perennial flower ring, such as woodland phlox or wild ginger.

8. Building a Tree Deck!

wooden bench built around tree trunk
Check out this idyllic hexagon-shaped garden bed or patio built around a tree trunk with beautiful red and white flowers. Various wooden designs and patio ideas are perfect if exposed roots or soil erosion stress you out – and if you want a new outdoor dining area. Of course, building a garden bench or patio is an extreme answer to slightly shallow roots. If you decide to follow suit, give your tree’s root system plenty of space and oxygen. Don’t smother the tree’s roots!

Building a deck around a tree might sound harmful. But, done right, a tree root deck can protect the roots! You’ll want to dig your support piers far from the tree and its delicate roots. And make sure to allow space around the tree to grow and move.

But ultimately, building around the tree will ensure that foot traffic no longer erodes the root system and helps protect the roots from damage. Plus, it looks spectacular! 

9. Garden Around the Tree Roots

The editor’s garden around the roots of a 100-year-old mango tree.

Here’s a quick note about planting around tree roots from our editor. It involves an epic 100-year-old mango tree – and a breathtaking display of colorful flowers, shrubs, and plants.

Here goes!

Here’s how I garden around tree roots. I have shade-loving plants like taro, betel leaf, gingers, and dwarf heliconia. Around my other tree’s roots, I have a hibiscus, an elephant’s ear, an arrowroot (canna), and a foxtail palm.

Consider planting small tube stocks, cuttings, or offsets. Smaller transplants work great for gingers and bromeliads because they grow well from a tiny plant offset!

You can also grow cuttings – cordyline, for example, is excellent. Cuttings and offsets grow well if you stick them straight into the ground. I have even planted them in a screwdriver-sized hole! Tree roots can be hard to dig around, so screwdriver-sized holes are all you’ll get sometimes. 

Also – always use a small and narrow gardening tool like a Japanese hoe. Small gardening tools are perfect for digging around the exposed roots and transplanting crops without disturbing the soil. If your gardening tool is too cumbersome or large, you risk puncturing the shallow roots!

Here you see the other side of my mango tree with night-scented jasmine, bromeliads, gardenia, swamp lilies, coleus, and rhoeo. There is also a philodendron climbing up the trunk – although it’s not big enough to see – not yet, anyway. On my other tree, I’m growing a fruit salad plant, Monstera deliciosa. In our tropical climate, we may even see it fruiting one day!

Creative Landscaping Ideas Around Tree Roots – FAQs

Landscaping ideas around tree roots need not be a stressful endeavor! We have a few handy landscaping ideas to make it much easier – and more rewarding. We hope the following tips aid you (and your backyard tree’s root system) a ton.

How Do You Landscape Around Trees With Exposed Roots?

When landscaping around exposed tree roots – be careful! Try not to damage the tree roots with weed whackers, lawnmowers, or tills. Always use manual tools rather than power equipment around exposed roots.

One of our favorite options is to cover tree roots with a light layer of pine needles, bark mulch, compost, or soil. You can also plant medium plants around your tree – but make sure they are shade-tolerant cultivars. (Herbs usually work well because they are low-maintenance, and many don’t mind growing in shady locations.)

Can You Put Dirt Over Exposed Tree Roots?

Yes. However, we advise not exceeding a few inches of dirt. If you place too much soil over your tree roots, you may stifle or deprive the tree roots of oxygen. Make no mistake. Your tree roots require oxygen. That’s one reason why the roots grow so near the surface! Also, remember that even if you cover the exposed roots with soil, the tree roots may re-emerge years later as they mature and thicken.

Is It Okay to Put Rocks Around Trees and Exposed Tree Roots?

Use them sparingly. And watch out in hot climates as rocks absorb heat. Hot garden rocks can also work to your advantage if you wish to create a microclimate. Also – we again harp on the idea that your tree roots require oxygen. If you place a layer of rock mulch or tiny pebbles, ensure that you don’t smother the surface roots to the point of suffocation.

Will Mulch Attract Termites? 

Yes, mulch can attract termites! I haven’t seen termites in grass-type mulches (sugar cane, hay, straw), but termites love woodchips. If termites are common in your area – avoid installing mulch too close to your home. Or – you could always use a synthetic mulch that termites won’t enjoy.

shallow tree roots in backyard
Mature trees with exposed roots can look spectacular! We think they don’t need much decoration. But sometimes, surface roots can also cramp your style. Another favorite landscaping tip for covering the exposed roots is to add pine needles, wood chips, or other organic matter to conceal the tree roots. But – only cover them a few inches. If you smother the exposed roots with inorganic mulches many inches deep – you risk suffocating the tree roots. If they’re not bothering you, you can also leave them as-is.

Conclusion

We hope this list of ideas helps you get to the root of your landscaping question! 

And we’d love to know which method you used! Did you highlight your stunningly gnarled roots or safely cover them with mulch or pebbles? If you’re proud of your landscaping creation, we’d love to see it!

Thanks for reading, and as always, happy gardening!

landscaping with mulch around trees in backyard
We have one final tip about exposed tree roots. The fascinating thing about exposed roots is that your tree’s root system is usually much shallower than you think. We read on the Purdue University Home & Garden Extension blog that many of your favorite trees have roots growing only four to eight inches below the soil. Landscaping around trees with organic mulch is an excellent solution to exposed roots. But remember – the roots may resurface as they mature. So – it’s a race against time. And growing roots!

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