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Roots in Garden Soil: Pros, Cons and Removal Tips

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Did you know old garden roots nourish organisms present in the soil, enhance soil organic matter, and result in robust plant growth?

Roots in garden soil provide a multi-beneficial environment for plants and their roots. Roots are part of the underground parts of plants that grow into the soil. They provide nutrients and minerals to the plant for growth and development. Furthermore, roots also help in water absorption as well. 

There are various other essential benefits of roots in garden soil that you might not be enlightened of. In this post, I’m going to explore three main benefits of roots in garden soil.

What are the Benefits of Roots in Garden Soil?

Roots in Garden Soil

The benefits of using roots in garden soil can be many. When you use local, composted garden soil, you are creating a sustainable, nourishing environment for your growing plants.

Concerning food supply to advantageous microbes present in the soil, the plants use their energy and feed them via root exudates.

In addition, some microbes provide protection and nourishment to vegetation with which they live in a symbiotic relationship. 

Roots get slowly decomposed by microbes present in the soil’s depth whenever the plant’s death occurs. 

The majority of the above-ground material gets volatilized into surrounding decomposition instead of recycling into the soil. Moreover, a few leftover parts of the dead plant above the soil surface act as a host to the eggs of predatory and pest insects.

Now the question is, how is all this information essential for your garden? So, it is suggested not to eliminate older roots in the soil during the preparation of garden beds for a new season. 

By doing so, the critical soil microorganisms get deprived of healthy food, resulting in badly destroying the long-lasting soil fertility. 

Several essential microbes can be quite beneficial for fresh vegetation that can be eliminated through this activity.  

If you are looking to provide the best soil nutrients for your plants, Burpee Organic All Purpose Granular Plant Food is a go-to for many successful gardeners because it gets results. It ensures your plants grow and bear as they should.

Plant Food Soil fertilizer

How Deep Do Tree Roots Grow?

The tree roots spread around the tree in the form of a huge circle, mostly twice the canopy size. Iowa State University Extension states that most tree roots spread and grow up to 18 inches below the upper soil surface but can also reach a depth of 10 feet.

More than 50 percent of roots stays in 6 inches of the below surface of the soil. 

Among these trees, weeping willow (also called Salix Babylonica) is one of them. Its roots are widespread away from the trunk and grow up to 150 feet horizontally or more.

Roots search for nutrients by sending out long thin tips called root hairs. The tip extends into the soil and absorbs water and minerals from the surrounding area. If the tip encounters something toxic such as salt or acid, it stops growing. This helps prevent damage to the plant.

The depth of tree roots depends on soil conditions, such as moisture and nutrients. If the soil is dry, trees may grow deeper roots to reach water. 

Can you Plant over Old Roots in the Soil?

Planting over roots already present in the soil is a good way to reuse your garden soil? 

Well, yes, it’s possible. Newly planted vegetation can even spread and grow over previous roots as they are living until now, and as well as can draw nutrients from the whole soil surface for fresh plants. 

The soil can contain all the essential nutrients from earlier native plants that were growing there before.

It is crucial to examine the soil roots before planting fresh plants to get rid of a certain disease affecting vegetation. 

If any particular disease is present in the soil, it is vital to take precautions related to the disease. Furthermore, sterilization is required to maintain safe, healthy soil for the new plants. 

Planting over the soil suffering from root rot is also possible. Root rotting generally occurs due to a swamping environment providing a chance for bacteria and fungi to flourish. 

Make use of a fungicide in case you identify any fungus infecting roots of an older plant before its death.  

Factors Affecting Soil with Old Roots –


Firstly you will need to identify if the root has any lingering diseases such as damping off.

Damping-off is a horticultural disease or condition, caused by several different pathogens that kill or weaken seeds or seedlings before or after they germinate. It is most prevalent in wet and cool conditions (source)

If you have prior knowledge that the plants died of some type of disease rather than just neglect, then you should remove the roots from the soil. 

Soil Compaction

Soil compaction is an issue that may arise as a result of the high density of roots in the same soil. The plants that were previously there may have a large fibrous network of roots and these will cause a compaction problem.

If new plants are sown in the same space the roots will have to compete for space with the old roots if it wasn’t fully decomposed or removed.

Additionally, the roots which bind the soil closely together can lead to other problems such as drainage and soil aeration which we will discuss next.

Soil Drainage 

Stemming out of soil being compacted by the old root system, drainage will become a problem as the space between soil particles will be small restricting water movement out of the soil.

This can lead to the soil becoming waterlogged after watering which also can lead to additional problems of its own such as root rot for the new plants in the garden or pot.

Soil Aeration

A ripple effect of waterlogging is lack of aeration. This can be easily caused when the water totally fills up the available space within the soil preventing little air from reaching the roots where it is needed by the plants.

Roots of plants also respire and the rate of respiration can differ between plant species. Restricting a plant’s ability to respire can eventually lead to its demise. 

How to Remove Roots from Garden Soil?

Roots should not be left in the soil that is to be reused as a potting medium in a plant pot because they will hamper the growth of new plants. In other cases such as open gardens and raised bed gardens roots can be left in the soil if the previous plants did not die because of a known disease.

The soil roots can be removed while cleaning garden beds before further replanting. It can be done manually or via chemical treatment. 

Manual Removal:

Small Roots

To prevent the spread of harmful diseases, it is vital to clean garden beds after harvesting your seasonal food. The garden bed should be dug twice to remove several tiny roots.  

To remove small roots from garden soil, you will need to:

  1. Cut the roots that show above the ground level.
  2. Water the soil lightly to help loosen its structure.
  3. Dig carefully with a shovel.
  4. Remove all the dirt around the roots to expose them.
  5. Then use a sharp knife to cut through the roots.
  6. Remove roots by hand.

Large Roots

Larger root systems can go deep into the soil and more invasive techniques are required for removal.

Larger tree roots have thick and tough skin that makes them difficult to dig out.

  1. Dig small holes around the roots and then fill each hole with water.
  2. When the water gets absorbed, the soil will become soft and the roots can be removed easily.
  3. Tie a rope around the root structure and pull out using heavier machinery or a truck.

Often time this will create a mess with soil being dislodged and spread everywhere and clean up can be a pain.

But don’t worry, there is hope, large roots that grow deeper can be left in the soil.

Deeper roots decay in the underground surface through a natural process. They will, in turn, return organic matter to the soil over time.

Chemical Treatment:

Sometimes after the plant dies, several shrubs and trees give rise to root growths occupying the area throughout your garden. It is important to pull them just at the time when they appear. 

However, some species of trees are so tenacious. Some additional chemical measurements are required to stop their regrowth. In that case, the use of herbicide might be helpful just after the tree is cut down. 

Applying 2, 4-D, or glyphosate products on the cutting edges can be effective so that trees can pull herbicide into roots. 

Another method is making holes in the tree’s stump if it gets old and placing slow-moving fertilizer in them. After that, place mulch over them, let the trunk decompose through a natural process along with its roots. 

Can You Cover Tree Roots with Soil?

Are you facing the problem of tree roots occupying some futile space in your garden area? You may trip over them, sometimes putting yourself in danger, now you are wondering what to do?

In such a situation, covering those exposed roots of a tree above the ground surface with soil sounds good as soil can’t be harmful to roots in any case. 

Although it may seem safe, it can’t be good for the health of trees, here is why.

You must be concerned regarding placing soil above the roots of a tree. The reason is that the tree roots need to breathe, and placing a thick layer of clay may suffocate them. 

However, its solution is to place a little amount of soil above tree roots in two stages if required. This will provide enough time to tree roots for adjustment. 

How do you prevent tree roots in garden soil?

It is so annoying to your plants whenever tree roots occupy garden soil. So one way to stop them is to place two sheets of weed barrier fabric in that region and install a raised bed over the top.

The barrier must have the expanding ability just beyond the bed. 

The frame should then be filled with soil and placed over the weed barrier, and plants should be planted now.

Another method is using a common Smart Pot growing container formed by a geotextile. Just place the bed on the ground surface, add some fertile soil, and enjoy planting. 

The Takeaway:

Roots are living organisms and garden soil is their environment. A healthy root system is a powerful ally to combat pests and diseases.

In most cases, if you plant over roots in the soil, they will not grow well because the roots have already been damaged by being buried in the soil for too long. You may need to dig out those roots and then replant them so that they can grow in a healthier way.

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