Q: I recently tilled an area around my ‘October Glory’ maple tree in which to plant spring bulbs. The tree was planted last October. I noticed a lot of roots from the maple tree at ground level and just barely below the soil. Is that normal and am I hurting the tree by tilling around it and digging up these surface roots? Do I need to throw top soil over the roots that have already been dug up?
A: You are definitely not doing the tree any favors by tilling its roots but you probably have not killed it. One way to avoid damage in the future is to make sure you add plenty of soil conditioner to the area as you till it now – then never till it again. Use just a trowel or bulb planter to plant the bulbs each year. In this way, the roots will have a chance to recover this winter and they won’t be hurt in future years. Do pay attention to watering your tree next summer to compensate for the root loss this fall.