Tree roots can cause all sorts of problems. Sometimes they lift concrete sidewalks and create a trip hazard. Eventually, the lifting or cracking may get bad enough that you want to replace or repair a walkway. You lift the piece of concrete and move it out of the way to discover a bunch of big roots. They could be an inch (2.5 cm.) or more too high. A level area is needed to pour the new concrete. You don’t want to remove the roots so you wonder, “Can you shave tree roots?” If so, how do you do that?
Shaving Down Tree Roots
Shaving down tree roots is not recommended. It can compromise the stability of the tree. The tree will be weaker and more susceptible to blowing over in a windy storm. All trees, and especially large trees, need roots all the way around them to stand tall and strong. Shaving exposed tree roots leaves a wound where disease vectors and insects can penetrate. Shaving down tree roots is better than completely cutting the roots off, however.
Rather than shaving exposed tree roots, consider shaving the concrete sidewalk or patio to make it more level. Moving the sidewalk away from the tree by creating a curve in the path or narrowing the path in the tree root zone area is another way to avoid shaving exposed tree roots. Consider creating a small bridge to go over the roots. You can also excavate under larger roots and place pea gravel below them so that the roots can expand downward.
How to Shave Tree Roots
If you must shave the tree roots, you can use a chainsaw. Debarking tools work as well. Shave as little as possible.
Do not shave any tree roots that are closer to the trunk than three times the distance of the trunk diameter at breast height. It is simply too risky for the tree and for people who walk under the tree. Do not shave a tree root that is more than 2” (5 cm.) in diameter.
A shaved root will heal over in time. Make sure you place some foam in between the shaved root and the new concrete.
I especially don’t recommend shaving or cutting tree roots on large trees. Trees are assets. They increase your property value. See if you can change your path location or landscape design so that tree roots are preserved intact. If you are committed to shaving down tree roots, do so with caution and reserve.