Fall Lawn Care and Tree Root Health

Fall Lawn Care and Tree Root Health

Lawn aeration and grass seeding become a focus for many homeowners during the fall. While a beautiful lawn can help to compliment the curb appeal of your home, the methods in which your lawn is prepared for grass seeding can often create problems for your trees.

Additionally, trees and lawns were never meant to cohabitate. If you see a tree in its natural setting, it is surrounded by leaf litter (natural mulch), not grass.

We understand the importance of having a beautiful lawn, and thankfully, there are steps you can take to protect your trees while mimicking a natural setting within the root zone. Read on to find out how you can ensure your trees are thriving while still having a beautiful lawn.

What is aeration?

Aeration is the process of preparing grassed (or future grassed) areas for seeding. There are two primary methods of aeration. The first involves the use of spikes which punctures holes in the soil using either a spiked roller or tine. The second method involves the removal of “plugs” of soil using a machine with hollow tines. Both methods are intended to open up the soil for water, oxygen, and nutrients that will ultimately aid in the successful germination of grass seed.

Why is this harmful to my trees?

The vast majority of tree feeder roots are located in the top 6-8 inches of soil. As aeration occurs within this root zone, the spiking or plugging process can rip fine feeder roots which reduces the tree’s ability to uptake water and nutrients. Additionally, buttress roots that extend from the tree trunk often lie just below the surface as they extend away from the tree. As aeration occurs over these roots, the spiking or plugging process can puncture and damage them, leading to reduced vigor and overall health, as well as susceptibility to opportunistic pests and disease, such as ambrosia beetles and root rot.

Does aeration ever help my tree?

Yes! Reducing soil compaction is essential to ensuring a healthy root zone; however, the method in which soil is aerated around a tree should be approached differently than what is typical for lawn aeration. Aeration of a tree’s root zone is known as a Root Zone Aeration and uses a special tool called an air spade to loosen the soil and decrease compaction. Additionally, a Root Zone Aeration is a great time to complete a Root Collar Excavation in which excessive soil or mulch levels can be removed from around the tree’s root collar, and girdling roots can be pruned before they start to impact the tree’s health.

What should I do to ensure that my trees thrive in my lawn?

Protecting the root zones of your trees is the simplest and most effective way to protect them from spiking or plugging as you prepare your lawn this fall. It’s also the best way to reduce competition for nutrients and water between your grass and trees during the growing season. This competition is a common stressor for landscape trees, and much like root damage, leads to increased susceptibility to pests and disease.

Mulching your trees out to the drip line – the boundary of the outer circumference of the branches – is the best way you can protect your tree’s root zone from lawn aeration and grass competition. If you’re unable to mulch out to this point, mulching as far out as possible will still ensure a larger protected root zone. It is important at this point to note that mulch should never be piled up against the trunk of the tree or allowed to cover the root flares that are located above ground. You can ensure proper mulching techniques by reviewing these common mulching questions.

Getting to the Root of It

Ultimately, tree health starts in the root zone. While a thick full lawn can be a wonderful compliment to your home, the value provided by the trees in your yard is something that cannot be replaced. Ensuring their health through the creation of a protected and healthy root zone will help to eliminate the risks of damage to buttress and fine roots during the lawn aeration process, as well as reduce competition for water and nutrients during the growing season.

As always, if you have questions specific to your own trees, we are happy to discuss your situation in more detail and strategize solutions that ensure your enjoyment of them for years to come. Drop us a line here or give us a call using the number below, and we will follow up with you.