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Root Flare Exposure Newsletter



The most important part of tree management

Properly Exposed Flare on Red Oak - Excellent Condition

The Poster Child of Buried Flares - Sycamore is not Growing and Barely Alive

There are two basic issues. When the flare is underground or covered by mulch or groundcover plants, it stays moist and doesn't breathe properly as bark is supposed to do. The moist condition on the bark slows down or stops growth and with time can lead to rot and even death. Soil, mulch and plants too high on the trunks also often hides circling and girdling roots that choke the tree, drastically slowing down growth and cutting into the trunk. Trees grown in containers are highly subject to this damaging condition but balled and burlapped and bare rooted trees also have the problem often. Chinese pistachio and crape myrtles seem to be planted improperly deep more than any trees but all are subject to this problem.

To remove the soil and expose the flares yourself, use hand tools, stiff brushes and gloved hands, being extremely careful not to damage the wet, buried bark tissue. Water can be used but only with a soft spray. Strong water blasts can severely damage the soft bark on the base of the trees.

By far the best route is to hire an organic arborist that uses the Air Spade or Air Knife. These are fancy sandblasting type tools that blow air (no sand) at a high velocity and remove the soil without damaging even the smallest roots. Once exposed, the circling roots and small “spaghetti “ roots trying to reach air can be removed and the depression caused by the flare exposure should be left open. As the flares expand from the growth of more vigorous trees, the open dishes will fill in. The depth of the excavation simply depends on how badly the trees are buried. All I would put in the depression is a thin layer of shredded cedar mulch to cover the bare soil.

Great percentage of container plants in nurseries are buried. Before planting, excess mulch and soil should be completely removed.

Burlap, cords, ropes and wires should be removed. In most cases excess soil will be found under the burlap and should be completely removed.

Flower beds should be removed from the bases of trees. The bed prep usually covers the flares and the beds tend to be watered more than trees like.

Fruit trees are chronically too deep in the ground. It is the main reason there are so many insect and disease problems with fruit crops.

Mulch should never be used like this. It should be completely removed so it doesn’t touch the flare. This “mulch volcano” technique is the most widely used in Houston, Texas.

Tree trunks emerging straight out of the ground like fence posts are too deep in the ground - simple as that. When mushrooms start showing, rot is well underway and trees like this Chinese pistachio are in serious trouble.

Groundcovers like this English ivy should be removed from the top of the tree, the trunk and out from the flare. Plants gather dust and debris causing a build of soil on the flair. The plants themselves can hold moisture on the trunks and flares. 

The tree ear fungus showing at the base of the champion pecan in Weatherford was the alarm that the tree was in trouble. It was 2002.

The Air Spade was used to remove soil that had built up from the nearby creek over the decades. Lamberts donated the work.

About 12” of soil was removed from the right side of the tree and over 4 feet was removed from the creek side. Air Spade shown in front of the tree.

Many old live oaks at the Radio Shack project in Fort Worth were exposed. Spaghetti looking roots like shown here are trying to grow up in the soil to reach oxygen. They should be completely removed as the flare is uncovered.

All this root mass mess was removed at the Radio Shack project.

This small tree died from being buried. One root had turned up and was trying to get to oxygen. Rot killed the stressed tree.

Circling and girdling roots should all be removed.

One of the most dramatic exposures. The homeowners removed more than 8’ from the base of this bur oak in Waco, Texas. Here’s the link to the entire story about this tree: Waco Burr Oak - Uncovered

Large live oak at the Dirt Doctor’s place. I left the crossed legs because I thought it looked cool.

Pulling the ivy back from this tree revealed that the flare needs better exposure.

Some gardeners are concerned about water standing in the dishes after heavy irrigation or rain. It’s usually not a problem because the water drains away and evaporates so the flare dries out pretty fast. When soil is too high, the flare stays moist all the time.

Circling and spaghetti roots being completely removed from bald cypress.

Pretty good flare on lacebark elm.

A good start but the flare is not showing. More work needed here.

Excellent natural root flares on live oaks on a Texas ranch.

Arkansas’s champion magnolia showing why it is so large and healthy - magnificent flare. Located in Texarkana, Arkansas.


Additional Root Flare Information

Here are some other useful resources from
To discuss this newsletter or any other topic, tune in each Sunday 8am - 11am central time to the Dirt Doctor Radio Show. The call-in phone number is 1-866-444-3478. Listen on the internet or click here to find a station in your area.

Please share this newsletter with everyone in your address book and all your friends on Facebook and Twitter to help me spread the word on the proper way to select, plant and maintain plants.

Naturally yours,

Howard Garrett
The Dirt Doctor





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