Root-Flare Exposure For Your Trees

When you are looking around your DFW neighborhood, you might not notice the way the trees have been planted. Did you know trees shouldn’t look like telephone poles sticking up out of the ground?  The practice of burying root flares of trees has become a common practice by urban landscapers. But, this practice can be a problem. The root flare of a tree is the tree’s anchor and it should be exposed so that the tapered part of the trunk that meets the ground is visible and exposed to air.  The root flare is composed of all the buttress roots of the tree.  When a tree looks like a telephone pole coming out of the ground, the buttress roots of the root flare are buried which invites several serious problems to develop over time. The Dallas Morning News recently published the answers to our tree root questions.   

Digging into the details on exposing a tree’s root flares

Readers have questions about the proper techniques, and we have answers.

You should be able to stand on the flares of a properly exposed tree — as with this Arkansas state champion magnolia.(Howard Garrett / Special Contributor)

By Howard Garrett

4:59 PM on Feb 1, 2021 CST

Questions related to root-flare exposure are on the rise, and that’s good. I’ve had lots of responses to last week’s column on the subject.

One of the most common questions I get is, “Why hasn’t my tree care company recommended this procedure?”

Well, many people in the tree business were not trained in this technique and don’t really understand how to do it correctly. Some of the universities are taking steps in that direction, but many of the tree care companies are run by people who learned the tree business from others who learned from on-the-job training. So it’s a pretty new technique.

Sometimes homeowners are confused about the importance of root-flare work because their trees are old-ish and seem to be healthy — so they ask, “Why is the work needed?”

Water standing around a tree’s exposed root flare is usually nothing to worry about, but drainage can be added, if necessary.(Howard Garrett / Special Contributor)

People in this category are usually greatly surprised by how well treated trees do compared with how they looked and grew before the work was done. The disappearance of mistletoe, sapsucker damage and other pests always grabs their attention.

Tree age has little to do with whether the work is needed. The national champion pecan tree in Weatherford has had more than 4 feet of soil removed from its base, and this great tree is hundreds of years old.

Some people scratch their heads about why certain trees can tolerate being too deep in the soil more than others. Bottomland trees such as green ash, pecan, sycamore and others can better tolerate the moist soil covering their flares — but they will grow better and have fewer pests if uncovered and respond just like the more drought-tolerant trees.

Water standing in depressions created when uncovering root flares raises questions. You might not like the look of the depressions at the bases of trees, but water standing temporarily is not a big concern. Remember that before the work was done, moist soil was against the flare and trunk all the time.

If water after a rain stays at the tree base for a long time because of heavy soil or poor grading on the site, drainage can be added. Dig a ditch from the depression out to a lower point on the site and fill the ditch with crushed gravel all the way to the surface. Pipes and filter fabrics are not needed. Mulch can be used to cover the surface of the gravel-filled ditch, but grass and other plantings will cover it fairly quickly.

The timing question is simple: Do the work as soon as possible so the trees can get on their way to better health. Winter is the ideal time, and spring is probably the most questionable time, but competent arborists are doing this work year-round.

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