Trees are a perfect addition to any home’s outdoor landscape, but the extensive root systems of most species cause infrastructural damage. There are many tree species with non-invasive roots that you can grow in your yard without worrying about the roots invading your foundation or underground plumbing.
The best trees with non-invasive roots include Adams crabapple, Amur maple, pawpaw fruit tree, American hornbeam, bronze loquat, English holly, Fraser photinia, and the dwarf plum. Some of these trees are small in size and suitable for small yards while others are evergreen shade trees.
Can roots damage foundations and pipes?
Invasive roots are sometimes the main cause of cracks in concrete foundations. These roots typically grow laterally and closer to the soil surface where moisture, oxygen, and nutrients are abundant.
However, since porous concrete slab foundations have a lot of moisture below them, some roots may grow downwards to reach this moisture. As the roots drain away moisture from the foundation soil, soil pressure drastically reduces, causing the foundation to crack. To prevent and minimize this kind of damage, try growing fruit, shade, and privacy trees with non-invasive roots.
10 Trees with Non-invasive Roots
Rather than having to go through the trouble of installing barriers to prevent tree roots from creeping into your foundation, underground plumbing pipes, and sidewalk, it’s easier to simply grow trees with non-invasive roots. Whether you’re looking for an evergreen tree, a fruiting tree, or a shading tree, you can always find a variety with non-invasive roots at your local tree nursery.
Here are the best trees with non-invasive roots:
Also known as Malus ‘Adams’, this vibrant, red-colored tree has non-aggressive roots that mostly lie close to the ground surface even when fully matured. As such, it’s rare to find the roots of the Adams crabapple invading the home’s foundation or underground plumbing system. This tree species thrives in zones 4-8.
A fully-grown Malus ‘Adams’ tree falls between 15-20 feet in height and grows just as wide. It also produces beautiful pink blossoms in spring followed by red fruits in fall. This species of the crabapple is also notably resistant to a variety of apple diseases like fire blight.
Amur maple grows best in hardiness zones 3-8. It produces colorful red-orange leaves during fall, making it a great ornamental plant. Adult Amur maples are about 30 feet tall and have a lateral spread of about 10 feet, which is wide enough to provide excellent shade.
Due to its shallow and fibrous root system, the roots of this maple species are unlikely to grow into your foundation soil. And since Amur maple has moderate drought tolerance, you don’t have to worry about the roots growing into your foundation should you fail to water it for some time. However, Amur maple is vulnerable to fungal and bacterial diseases like anthracnose and crown gall.
Scientifically known as Ilex aquifolium, English holly is an evergreen shrub that’s a great option for cold-season landscaping. While the taproot of this tree grows deep into the soil, the lateral roots are thinner and non-invasive, as they don’t spread too far out. English holly thrives in zones 5-8.
English hollies are typically grown together in a row to form beautiful, evergreen hedges along the perimeter of the home’s yard. The white blossoms and bright red fruits add to the shrub’s ornamental appeal. However, since English holly is dioecious, flowering only occurs in female plants.
The pawpaw tree is arguably the best option if you want a non-invasive tree whose fruits you can harvest for food. It produces large fruits that are yellow and delicious when ripe and can be eaten as is or added to food and smoothie recipes. This plant species is best grown in regions with warm summers and cold winters (zones 5-8).
Pawpaw trees grow to about 20 feet tall and have non-extensive root systems. And even when multiple pawpaw trees are grown close to one another, they tend to graft their roots together, minimizing chances of root invasion to your home’s foundation or sidewalk.
The Chinese pistache produces dense foliage with a height and spread of up to 35 feet at full maturity, making it an excellent shade tree. Being as it’s a drought-tolerant tree, its roots don’t have to spread far away from the root ball in search of moisture. This minimizes the risk of root invasion to your homes foundation and underground piping.
The Chinese pistache thrives in hardiness zones 6-9. It produces red-orange drupes that add to its ornamental appeal as a landscape plant. However, being as it’s a deciduous tree plant, its leaves tend to fall off during winter, littering the yard in the process.
Botanically known as Eriobotrya deflexa, the Bronze loquat has a shallow, non-invasive root system that doesn’t extend that far beyond the canopy line. The mature leaves maintain their signature dark green shade throughout the year, while the maroon tinge of emerging foliage adds to the ornamental allure of this tree species.
Bronze loquats are not that tall and grow to a height of 10-15 feet. It’s most commonly used as a patio shade tree but needs to be occasionally pruned to keep the branches from drooping. Take note that this tree species is likely to develop fireblight and root rot problems when grown in wet soil conditions.
Citrus trees typically grow to a height of 18-25 feet tall. They grow well in hardiness zones 9-11. This genus of flowering plants produces pulpy fruits with a sweet taste. The roots of citrus trees typically grow to match the canopy drip line of the tree, which is usually about eight feet tall.
What’s more, more than three-quarters of the tree’s root system is usually clumped up within the first two feet of the root ball, reducing the chances of root invasion. Take note, though, that the roots of citrus trees may grow as wide as 40 feet in search of moisture and invade your home’s foundation if you don’t keep the tree well-watered.
If you’re looking for a permanent backyard/front yard tree, the American Hornbeam, which can live for up to 300 years, may be your best option. Grown in USDA hardiness zones 3-9, this fruit tree typically grows up to 30 feet tall. The American hornbeam has a low potential to cause infrastructural damage, as root growth is non-aggressive.
The American hornbeam’s shiny, dark green leaves add a touch of natural beauty to any landscape. And during fall, the leaves turn to various shades, including red and yellow, making it even more visually appealing. One downside to this tree species, though, is that it’s a slow grower.
Also known as Red tip photinia, Fraser photinia is a small, evergreen tree/shrub that can grow up to 10 feet tall at full maturity. The tree’s roots grow close to the ground surface and are not aggressive. Fraser photinia thrives in hardiness zones 7-9.
During spring and mid-summer, new leaves emerge and are vibrant red in color, making this shrub a great ornamental plant. Meanwhile, the mature leaves will stay green throughout the cold season, making it an excellent choice for winter landscaping. However, Fraser photinia is highly susceptible to leaf spot disease.
Dwarf Plum Tree
As the name suggests, the dwarf plum tree is a short tree species that grows to a height of 5-7 feet at full maturity. This tree is great for homeowners with limited garden/yard space, as they take up minimal space and have small, non-extensive root systems compared to regular plums. Dwarf plums generally grow in zones 4-9.
The dwarf plum tree’s low height makes maintenance a breeze, as you can prune it from the safety of the ground. Meanwhile, it produces oblong plum fruits that you can use to make fruit jam or add to your food recipes.
On the downside, this type of tree is likely to suffer drought damage if grown too close to other trees with deeper, more extensive root systems.
List of Shade Trees with Non-invasive roots
Shade trees make the backyard a great place to relax, as they filter the sun’s harsh rays. You can even install a hammock between two shade trees and enjoy your afternoons in your yard. Here’s a list of the best shade trees with non-aggressive roots.
- Trident maple tree
- Amur maple tree
- Florida maple tree
- Fraser photinia tree
- Chinese pistache tree
- Blue-Beech tree
List of Fruit Trees with Non-invasive Roots
For many gardening enthusiasts, there’s no greater satisfaction than sourcing food from one’s own garden. With fruit trees, you can harvest fresh fruits every season.
Here’s a list of the best fruit trees with non-invasive root systems:
- Miniature cherry tree
- European cornel tree
- Miniature apricot tree
- Pawpaw tree
- Miniature orange tree
- Citrus tree
- Miniature plum tree
- Malus ‘Adams’ tree
- Miniature plum tree
- Kousa dogwood tree
If you prefer trees whose leaves will remain lush green through more than one growing season, go for an evergreen tree. These tree varieties will retain their foliage color even through the cold winter months.
Here’s a list of evergreen trees with non-invasive root systems:
- English holly tree
- Red tip photinia tree
- Hollywood juniper
- Skyrocket juniper
- Bronze loquat tree
- Australian willow tree
- Olive tree
Keep in mind that invasive tree roots aren’t always the primary cause of foundation damage, though, and may simply be exacerbating existing structural damage to your foundation. Tree roots typically grow along the path of least resistance. Therefore, if there are pre-existing cracks within your foundation caused by shrinking, small roots will grow downwards in the direction of the foundation cracks.
Meanwhile, if you have any leaks within your plumbing pipes due to wear, tree roots may penetrate the pipes and block your water and sewerage systems. It costs lots of time and money to unclog underground plumbing pipes blocked by invasive tree roots. As such, you should always grow trees as far away as possible from your plumbing systems.
- Lindsey Purcell, Urban Forestry Specialist; Purdue University, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources: Can tree roots cause damage to a home’s foundation?
- Sherry Rindels, Department of Horticulture; Iowa State University Extension: Tree Root Systems
- Sharon Morrisey, Consumer Horticulture Agent, Milwaukee County UW-Extension: Our Most Common Trees and Shrubs and their problems
My name is Alex K. Worley. I am a web geek who loves gardening and connecting with nature. I maintain a small backyard organic garden from which I source most of my green food. I hope to help you learn something new about gardening.