Gardeners: Beware of Shallow-Rooted Trees!



If you’re searching for trees to plant on your property, one factor to consider is the type of roots it produces, and this is especially true if you’re an avid gardener.

You see, some trees have roots that grow especially deep or are well spaced. These trees won’t hamper your gardening plans, even in the long term (unless the soil where you plan to garden is very thin; after all, even a normally deep-rooted tree will produce surface roots if there is, for example, a layer of solid rock just below the soil surface).


Tain’t easy maintaining a lawn with shallow-rooted trees in the vicinity. Source:

Other trees, on the contrary, have either dense root systems or mostly superficial roots that will quickly create havoc, drying out the soil and depleting its minerals, making any type of gardening difficult. And many of these same trees will cause further damage by lifting the tiles of your patio, cracking and raising ciment walkways and rendering the surface of your paths and trails so uneven you can scarcely walk on them without tripping. It’s even difficult to maintain a decent lawn under such trees, as the roots not only dry out lawn grasses and steal their minerals, but often rise above the soil making mowing difficult! Certainly the trees below can be useful in a city park, a wood-lot or on a large lot, but they are not good choices if you think you’ll be gardening one day.

Note that the situation is even worse near a vegetable garden. Vegetables are delicate things, requiring deep, friable, rich soil. You don’t want tree roots of any sort wandering in. Ideally, therefore, you could avoid any tree, even one said to have deep roots, near a vegetable garden. Don’t even plant shrubs nearby! Or, looking from another point of view, one of the basic criteria in the selection of the site for any future vegetable bed should always be the absence of any tree or large shrub in the area.

The Culprits

Here are some trees with superficial or very dense roots that you should avoid planting if you want a beautiful lawn, a stunning flower bed or a productive vegetable garden.

  1. Acacia (Acacia spp.)—zones 9–11
  2. Alder (Alnus spp.)—zones 2–10
  3. Amur maple (Acer tataricum ginnala)—zones 2–7
  4. Arborvitae (Thuja spp.)—zones 3–9
  5. Ash (Fraxinus spp.)—zones 2–9
  6. Beech (Fagus spp.)—zones 3–7
  7. Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)—zones 4–9
  8. Cork tree or hellodendron (Phellodendron spp.) – zones 4-8
  9. Cypress (Cupressus spp.)—zones 6–10
  10. Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis)—zones 7–9
  11. Elm (Ulmus spp.)—zones 3–9
  12. Eucalpytus (Eucalyptus spp. )—zones 7–10
  13. European white birch (Betula pendula)—zones 2–7
  14. Fir (Abies spp.)—zones 2–8
  15. Hemlock (Tsuga spp.)—zones 4–8
  16. Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) – zones 5-8
  17. Larch (Larix spp.)—zones 1–8
  18. Liquidambar (Liquidambar spp.)—zones 6–9
  19. Magnolia (Magnolia spp.)—zones 4–11
  20. Mezquite (Prosopis spp.) – zones 7–11
  21. Mulberry (Morus spp.)—zones 4–9
  22. Norway maple (Acer platanoides)—zones 3–7
  23. Pepper tree (Schinus spp.)—zones 8–11
  24. Pin oak (Quercus palustris)—zones 4–8
  25. Poplar (Populus spp.)—zones 2–9
  26. Red maple (Acer rubrum)—zones 3–9
  27. River birch (Betula nigra)—zones 3–9
  28. Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)—zones 3–9
  29. Spruce (Picea spp.)—zones 2–8
  30. Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)—zones 4–9
  31. Sycamore or plane (Platanus spp.)—zones 5–9
  32. Tulip tree (Liriodendron spp.)—zones 5–9
  33. White pine (Pinus strobus)—zones 3–9
  34. Willow* (Salix spp.)—zones 1–10
  35. Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis)—zones 2–7

*Shrub willows have more limited root systems than tree willows and can be used near a flower bed… but never near vegetables!

The Good Guys

You’ll find a list of trees with deeper roots here: Garden-Friendly Trees. Still, don’t plant any of even these near a vegetable garden!20180327A

2 thoughts on “Gardeners: Beware of Shallow-Rooted Trees!

    • Oops! I’ve corrected the “good list” to specify “shrubby magnolias”. All are shallow-rooted, but shrubby species produce relatively few roots and are not likely to do damage.

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