Question: Should you remove the conifer root ball for a lawn?

By | 08/06/2017
A conifer tree in a lawn

I recently received a great lawn care question from a reader Sunil. His emailed me his question after reading my article, why doesn’t grass grow around my conifer tree?

Hi Kris

I have tried several things during last year to try to improve the lawn (reseeding, aerating soil, fertiliser, lime to reduce the acidity) under 3 pine trees in our front lawn, but with little success. I am unable to water the lawn regularly.

We are considering chopping down one of the pine trees to improve moister levels in the soil to help the grass. The tree surgeon said he can chop it down to ‘stump level’. In your article you have recommended ‘removing the root ball’- is this essential? Without the the bark, branches and leaves, won’t the root system not disintegrate and thus stop absorbing water from the soil?

I will be grateful for your expert advice.

Thanks,
Sunil

Thanks for the question Sunil!

Can you grow grass after cutting down a conifer tree?

As I explained in my blog post, the area underneath a conifer tree is an extremely unwelcoming place for other plants. Very few species can survive the theft of moisture, light and nutrients taken by the larger tree.

If you have taken the step to cut down the tree then you have only taken one step to enabling grass to grow in the area. A good lawn needs a good depth of soil in which to put down roots. A depth of at least 20cm of soil is recommended, ideally more. Leaving conifer tree roots in place will bring about several problems.

  • The soil will still be very compacted. It will be very difficult for grass to put down roots in a compacted soil, so turf or seed will always struggle.
  • The soil will be devoid of nutrients and biological activity. Pine trees don’t leave many nutrients in the soil for other plants, and the needles which they drop take a very long time to break down.
  • The soil will still contain roots. These roots will break down over time, although this may take many years. This process of rotting down the wood will cause the soil to sink. Eventually a large hollow forms which will need to be filled in. This is difficult to repair if an established lawn in place.
  • If a lawn is established around a stump, it will be difficult to mow.  Roots will come to the surface and the exposed wood may damage your mower blades.

How should I remove the root ball?

Although it may be possible to grow some grass after a pine tree has been cut down, by far the best way to proceed is to remove the stump completely.

This can be dug out by hand, which is a difficult job. However, there are professional companies which specialise in providing stump grinding services. These companies use a stump grinder machine to grind out the remaining wood in the hole, preventing re growth and speeding decomposition. The soil can then be easily improved with compost or other organic matter and laid to lawn quickly.

I very much recommend removing the stump before laying a lawn, and you will get a much better result for the future.

I hope this is helpful and again, thanks for reading!

Kris Lord
Lawnscience (South Manchester) Ltd

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