Apple trees are one of the most popular fruits in the US, and while they can be grown in most regions, many wonder if their roots will cause damage to their property. The average price for a house foundation costs $27,000, so it’s no surprise why this is a valid concern. So, are apple tree roots invasive and should they be grown in your backyard?
Apple tree roots aren’t considered invasive since they’re not as aggressive and strong as other trees. However, 90% of the roots from apple trees grow in the top 2 feet of soil and often extend past the canopy. Because of this, plant apple trees 25 feet away to prevent any potential damage to structures.
So, while apple tree roots are considered invasive, how far do they spread, and can they still cause damage? Let’s take a further look.
How Far Do Apple Tree Roots Spread?
The roots of apple trees often extend up to three times the height of the tree. This can be about 25 feet long. Dwarf apple trees are shorter than this, usually having roots that spread to 15 feet. As a general rule, it’s best to keep apple trees at least 25 feet from structures such as fences, walls, and foundations.
A primary goals of an apple tree’s roots are to spread out and gather water, oxygen, and nutrients from the soil.
The ideal root conditions for apple trees are usually found in shallow soil such as:
- Adequate soil oxygen
- Sufficient water
- Nutrients required for growth and development
- Loose soil that does not restrict root growth
In the search for these resources, apple tree roots tend to grow horizontally—often spreading out up to 2-3 times the tree’s height. If the roots run into any obstacles, they’ll grow around it and continue back in their original direction. The exact spread of the tree’s roots depends on the above factors, such as soil type and the amount of water.
For a full-sized apple tree, root spread can be 25 square feet or more. For dwarf apple trees, it’s closer to 10 square feet.
Even though apple tree roots can spread far, their growth is not considered invasive because invasive trees typically thrive in a variety of soil conditions and can be difficult to get rid of. For example, apple trees (and other fruit trees) typically have a harder time growing in rocky soils.
On the other hand, apple trees need well-aerated, loamy soil for quick growth. Their roots will grow to meet the tree’s needs but typically won’t invade other plants or structures such as foundations, walls, or fences.
How Deep Do Apple Tree Roots Grow?
Apple tree roots commonly grow to a depth of 12-16″, but are known to grow as deep as 3′. Usually, 90% of the roots are found in the first 2′ of soil. While many factors contribute to the depth of apple tree roots, the two main factors are the richness and looseness of the soil.
Apple tree roots grow to different depths depending on environmental conditions such as:
- Soil packing and quality
- Water content
While the majority of the roots spread out horizontally to find nutrients in shallow soil, some roots grow deeper into the soil to provide anchorage and extra water coverage.
The taproot is one of the deepest roots from apple trees, which is a single, vertical root that extends straight down into the soil in search of water (like how we dig for a well). From there, other roots fill in the gaps.
If the apple tree roots run into obstacles (like bedrock), they’ll stop growing deeper and instead turn horizontally or retreat back towards the surface. For example, roots will more shallow in waterlogged, peaty soil due to the lack of soil aeration. On the other hand, if the soil is loose with good airflow, the deepest roots can grow over three feet deep.
Still, apple trees typically have some deeper roots that keep them anchored in the soil. From there, the remaining roots are more shallow, typically growing no more than three feet below ground. This is because the soil near the surface has more favorable conditions for tree and root growth.
Can Apple Tree Roots Damage a Fence or Foundation?
The roots of apple trees are rarely the cause of foundation damage but can displace fences as they grow. This is due to the shallow root systems that spread horizontally just under the surface. Apple tree root systems are more likely to destabilize structures from the soil shifting than directly cause any damage.
As mentioned previously, the roots of an apple tree will grow towards sources of water and oxygen. Although roots are often blamed for interfering with the foundation, they cannot actually harm this through growth. Small tree roots can penetrate pre-existing cracks in the foundation but are not strong enough to cause any direct damage.
However, if there is water under the foundation, the roots can dry out shrinkable clay soils. This indirectly causes damage by contributing to the depletion of soil moisture which can cause the foundation to recede into the ground. However, this is uncommon and old age is a more likely culprit in foundation damage.
Roots farther from the trunk typically grow closer to the surface of the soil. And overall, 90% of a tree’s roots are commonly found within two feet of the surface.
The shallow root system of apple trees means that they’re more likely to damage landscaping. Similarly, apple tree roots will only invade water lines after cracks have already formed due to natural wear and tear. Roots can also damage fence posts or walls by pushing them out of place as they grow.
This potential damage goes both ways, as fences and foundations will not allow root systems to grow as extensively as they may need to. So, it’s important to leave enough space when planting an apple tree to protect both the plant and any nearby structures.
How Far Away Should You Plant Apple Trees From a Fence or Foundation?
As a general rule, apple trees should be planted 25 feet away from fences and foundations. This will avoid any potential damage to pre-existing structures from the tree’s roots or branches. It will also ensure that the plant has enough space to grow and find adequate nutrients in the soil.
Before planting an apple tree, it’s important to pick a good site away from current structures or any areas of future construction. Damage to fences or foundations is more common when the tree is within 10 feet.
It’s also important to consider elements that are above and below ground, such as sewer or gas lines, or overhead power lines.
Although apple tree roots are not capable of directly causing cracks in the foundation, they can still destabilize the soil around the structure. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
Apple tree roots need enough space to reach the proper resources for growth. If roots get too close to buildings or fences, they typically need to be cut—which can have dangerous consequences for the tree. Cutting through the roots of any plant will wound the tree, restrict access to water and nutrients, and destabilize it.
If there isn’t enough space in your yard, a dwarf apple tree is a good option that doesn’t require as much room as its full-grown counterpart. Dwarf varieties also make great potted plants that can be brought indoors if your growing zone gets extreme weather.
Along with the potential root damage, there are other downsides to planting an apple tree too close to your home—their branches can rub against the house and scrape against the siding. Additionally, storms could sway or break off these branches and cause damage to the house or any nearby fences.
Keep in mind that the fruit will also attract animals such as bees, wasps, squirrels, and mice, all critters that you’d typically want to keep a good distance from your home.
Alternatively, tree root barriers can be used to redirect roots deeper into the soil and away from fences or foundations. This mechanical device protects your property as well as your apple trees.
If you’re interested in learning more about planting an apple tree in your garden, check out this helpful video by Tim Farmer’s Country Kitchen.