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Massive Treeroots + Plastic Waste

Hello all,

I recently started gardening for the first time this year- we moved into this house around three years ago, but never really started gardening until now. 

The garden had been covered by weed suppressing sheets, but also large plastic bags, upon unearthing them, we found out that it had all broken down into billions of pieces- so lots and lots of plastic waste. (This garden has not been used for 20+ years). 

When we tried to clear up the rubbish that had accumulated during that time, we found massive tree roots that spanned the entire garden area (the roots themselves were growing tiny plants! I had thought those weeds last year looked a lot like mini-trees..). The neighbouring garden has a massive tree that just borders our back garden through the hedge.

In short- I have read up on what I can do right now (container gardening, dig trenches around the tree roots, etc.) but what I am really concerned about is the fact that I cannot cultivate the soil in the garden at all. 

Any comments/insights/experiences would be really helpful, I would really like to have a nice veggie patch in the back, but this seems impossible now. 


  • simplegardensimplegarden Posts: 9
    edited April 2020
    Thank you! Yes, seems to be the only way forward (I know, compost, and seeds both seem to be in quite high demand at present)- by cultivating I really meant that whatever organic matter I introduce into the soil will either be used by the tree roots, or polluted with the plastic. 

    Will have to keep at it with the clearing up- slow and steady wins the race! :)

  • TopbirdTopbird Posts: 8,194
    Do you know what the tree is? If it's suckering it could be an ash or a sorbus.

    You're right that if you just make a raised bed on top of the tree roots, you'll just be feeding the tree. I know - that's how I ended up with a 2' high raised bed in which I couldn't grow any crops but I grew a huge mesh of walnut tree roots😬

    If you identify the tree (you can try posting some photos on here for help) you can research whether you can safely remove those roots which are nearer the surface which might help to keep your garden tidier.

    If you want to grow veg / have beds you might have to go down the very expensive route of lots of hard core & paving most of the garden and then building substantial raised beds on the paving.

    Meanwhile keep digging out / cutting off the suckers as they appear. 

    Are you friends with your neighbours? Are they particularly attached to this tree? Might save you all a headache and a great deal of expense if they allowed you to pay for it to be cut down.... 

    That won't be an option if it's a fine old oak tree or has a Preservation Order or the neighbours love it - but they might be worried about having such a large tree in their garden anyway.
    Heaven is ... sitting in the garden with a G&T and a cat while watching the sun go down
  • Hi Topbird-

    Firstly, thank you for your comments/suggestions, unfortunately I cannot seem to identify the tree, but I am posting some pictures here to see if anyone else can. 

    It is a beautiful and magnificent tree- I personally wouldn't want to cut it down, and I don't really see my neighbour being okay with it either at this stage, good point though, because that is most definitely a permanent solution.  :) 

    At this stage trying to garden on a low budget due to uncertain times, etc. but I will definitely keep the paving option in mind for the future! 

  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Posts: 11,391
    edited April 2020
    That looks like a huuuge wild cherry tree, such as Bird cherry (Prunus avium.)  Cherry trees are infamous for sending out horizontal roots close to the surface which then throw-up suckers, especially if damaged by cultivation or being nicked by lawnmowers.
    PS: it has ivy (Hedera helix) growing up it, which are the leaves shown in your last two photos.
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • Thank you for your reply. :)

    Oh- is that ivy? Because the branches are so high, I couldn't really make out the difference in the leaves.  :#

    I think you might be right, I haven't actually seen it produce any cherries in the three years I have been here, but maybe that's because there isn't another tree nearby? 

    You are quite accurate with the roots- they are quite literally everywhere, have even gone under the patio and loosened all the tiles (also tried to grow another tree through the tiles, before we cut it down). 

    Because it is quite literally on the border of our garden, I can't really see us managing to cut off all the sprawling roots, let alone keep them at bay for any veggie growing!
  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Posts: 11,391
    Some cherries only flower and don't produce many cherries - and with those that do, the fruit is usually quickly gobbled-up by pigeons.  This I know from trying to grow sweet (edible) cherries and have now given up one those, replacing them with plums and gages (in the hope those choke the bl**dy pigeons!)
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • Ah, I see- quite possible then, considering the number of birds in the area, and the height of the tree. :) 

    I have been looking very closely at wild cherry trees, and I do think you have identified it correctly. Sorry to hear about your cherry-struggles, I will take heed for my own (future) attempts with that particular plant.  :#
  • nick615nick615 Posts: 1,462
    In my opinion that tree's days are numbered with that amount of ivy choking it.  However, you do have an absolute right to use your land and any part of a neighbour's tree, above or below ground, may lawfully be cut off if on your side of the boundary.  If it was me, I'd dig a 2ft trench along your side of the boundary and see what it reveals.  If the roots are fairly close to the surface, big or small, cut them off and insert some paving slabs on edge to prevent further encroachment in future.  The tree will find other soil to plunder and you can have your veg?
  • TopbirdTopbird Posts: 8,194
    I think I'd go with Nick's suggestion.

    Depending how large an area we're talking about it might be possible to remove quite a lot of roots which are just below the surface - either with saws and pick axes or with the assistance of a hired mini digger. Perhaps you could tackle a realtively small part of the garden and see how it goes?

    We removed quite a lot of (neighbour's) silver birch root which was lifting our path without (unfortunately😬) any ill effect on the tree.

    That tree is not a particularly valuable specimen. It's been there for donkey's years so some surface root removal probably won't do it any harm at all. I'd be more concerned that while ever it's there, it's going to compromise what you can do with your garden.
    Heaven is ... sitting in the garden with a G&T and a cat while watching the sun go down
  • Yes, thank you both- that is a rather good suggestion (lots of cutting and axing in the foreseeable future for us then!) I was considering doing that at some point, but I am a little concerned that no matter how deep a trench I dig, the roots can always overcome it by digging deeper? Is that valid, or perhaps just me imputing an artificial aggressiveness to the tree based on the headaches its given us till now?  :(

    Also- I know that I cannot do much with the plastic pieces beyond just try and remove them slowly but surely, but I am really concerned about growing any veg in the soil direct because of chemical absorption by the edible plants. Do you think this is a real concern, or that the plastic content in the soil (for now) is harmless when it comes to growing veggies there? 
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