Do Roots Rot Eventually?

We had a 60 foot sycamore tree removed from our back yard about 3-1/2 years ago. I’ve noticed around the base of the remains of the stump out for 5 to 6 feet there are holes in the ground. They are hard to see since we have very thick St. Augustine grass but if you walk over the are you can definitely feel an indentation.

During the removal process I could see the workers lowering limbs but some no so gingerly to the ground. Some of the limbs did gouge out areas where they landed. All along I’ve assumed the indentations were from the gouged areas. By the way there were six workers and each had a specialty. You had climbers, spotters, goffers, big chain saw dude at the very end for the stump. Stump couldn’t be ground due to proximity to gas line.

Now I’m wondering if those gouged areas might be the roots rotting away under ground. The odd thing is the spots are not in a line indicative of a root but holes as if a heavy object landed there. The plan was to grind the stump and use the saw dust as filler for the holes but since they never ground the stump there was less saw dust to go around.

Anyway the boss and I went over to Lowe’s this morning for some top soil. We’ve got it spread and will see was happens. I’m sure the yard guy will be happy.


Hi ImAGolfer,

Yes, they slowly rot.

I suggest giving the indentations a little bit of top soil.

If you keep the soil thin, your grass will just keep going and easily adjust to it.

I believe St Aug stolons should repair any damage if the soil is too thick.

Does that help you?

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Does that help you?

Hey Gene. I dunno. We’ll see after the top soil settles in. Thanks.

Do Roots Rot Eventually?

“Eventually” is a long, long time.

I have trees that were cut 20 years ago due to a lightning strike and the roots are still there. We had a bunch with blight that we had to have taken out; the ones in the yard we had the stumps ground out, but the ones further back in the woods we didn’t. I guarantee that 10 years later those roots were still in there, and I was still tripping over them when I went to adjust the sprinklers or set up Christmas lights.

So I would say if “eventually” is “longer than your lifetime” then yes. Otherwise probably not.


It depends on a lot of factors how long before roots rot away.
Surrounding soil moisture, soil type, species of tree, other organisms (insects, fungi) in the area, etc.
I wouldn’t expect to see much of a depression from roots rotting. The roots are likely to get less dense, with nutrients migrating into the surrounding soil/live roots - but still largely take up the same amount of volume when rotten as when alive.

It sounds like you have a spots that have depressions in the ground - which would fit with compression from a branch hitting end-first into the ground.

If they’re actual holes, I’d suspect gophers or similar.

With it being depressions that are likely from falling limbs, you may want to do something to aerate the soil. You had significant (but very localized) soil compaction.


Now I’m wondering if those gouged areas might be the roots rotting away under ground.

My neighbor has a redwood tree that is about 30’ tall and a new tree sprouted in my yard. We let it grow for about 6 or 8(?) years until it was about 4-5" in diameter and I cut it down (very poor location). I drilled some holes in the stump and put in some root rot a few times starting ~4-5 years ago. I’m still waiting for the roots to rot enough that I can pull it out.

When I moved in there was a dead almond tree in my yard about 8" in diameter. I cut it down to a stump. About 15 years later we put in a bocce ball court so I had to dig it out. Seemed like nothing had rotted much.


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There are roots still in place in the forest that their tree was cut down in the 1800s! Only way to get them out is to dig 'em out, or destroy with a stump grinder… But most of those that warn you not to go more that a foot deep, so the rest remain…

A few years back I took out some gave bushes big ones, after cutting them bas to maybe a foot still sticking up, I hooked up a heavy chain to my 3/4T 4x4 truck, and tried yanking them out, it was like a brick wall. I was afraid I’d bend my frame, gave up, rented a stump grinder… Even it had trouble, vary hard, tough wood, roots… So next up we had gardeners plant several roses in the area, they hit roots I’d missed, had to chop their way though to get them planted…

A few year later I had a 70’ creek alder taken down, chipped. But I worked over the stump, got most of the roots, but I still hit some if I dig out there…

Centuries! Roots are made to survive wet/damp conditions…

Lay in the mulch, topsoil, leave 'em be, or spend lots of time digging!

It sounds like you have a spots that have depressions in the ground - which would fit with compression from a branch hitting end-first into the ground.

That’s exactly what I witnessed as the tree cutters did their thing. Some of the branches were pretty heavy. Also the size of the holes are roughly the diameter of some of the branches. I’ve filled the holes/indentations with top soil. We shall see.