One of the biggest concerns when planting cherry trees is if their roots will cause any damage to nearby surroundings. This is especially true when it comes to the foundations. On average, a foundation for a house costs $27,000, so it’s no surprise why this is a valid concern. So, are cherry tree roots invasive?
Generally, cherry trees don’t have invasive roots, but they can cause damage depending on how close they are to a structure. This risk can be reduced if you plant them at least 25 feet away from construction and choose less invasive rootstocks. Avoid structures such as foundations, fences, pipes, and fire hydrants.
Even if cherry tree roots are not considered invasive, how far and deep do they grow? Can they still cause damage to your fence or foundation? What are some ways to prevent harmful interactions between roots and structures? Let’s explore the answers to these questions and more.
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How Far Do Cherry Roots Spread?
The roots of cherry trees often extend to the drip line of the tree, which is about 25 feet long. Dwarf cherry trees are shorter than this, usually having roots that spread to 15 feet. As a general rule, it’s best to keep cherry trees at least 25 feet from structures such as fences, walls, and foundations.
Cherry trees have a shallow spreading root system with a large number of surface roots for support. This growth tends to extend where the soil environment can best sustain it. The roots are responsible for gathering nutrients and oxygen from the surrounding environment.
Favorable root conditions are more abundant in shallow soil such as:
- Adequate oxygen levels
- The appropriate level of water
- Nutrients required for growth and development
- Loose soil that does not restrict growth
In the search for these resources, cherry tree roots tend to develop in the horizontal direction. If the soil is heavily compacted or lacking the proper nutrients, the roots will spread beyond the drip line until they find what they’re looking for. If the roots run into any obstacles, they will grow around the object and continue in their original direction of growth.
Although it depends on the soil profile and availability of water, the root system of a mature cherry tree can reach a maximum spread up to three times the height of the tree. For a full-sized tree, this equals a spread of 25 square feet or more, while dwarf cherry trees have root systems that are closer to 10 square feet.
Despite the far-reaching nature of a cherry tree’s root system, the growth is not considered invasive because it often depends on soil conditions. Invasive trees will thrive in a variety of soil conditions and can be difficult to get rid of.
On the other hand, cherry trees need well-aerated, non-peaty soil for quick growth. They’ll grow to meet their needs but do not have the root strength to directly invade sewer pipes or cause cracks in the foundation.
How Deep Do Cherry Tree Roots Grow?
Cherry trees typically have shallow roots, with 90% of the roots found in the first 2′ of soil. Other, deeper roots can be found in 12-16″, with some reaching up to 3′ deep. While many factors contribute to the depth of cherry tree roots, the main factors are the soil’s water, nutrients, and looseness.
One of the deepest roots from cherry trees is the taproot, which is a vertical, singular root that extends straight down into the soil in search of water.
Although the majority of the root system spreads out laterally to seek nutrients in shallow soil, some roots grow deep into the soil to provide support and feed on the deeper nutrients.
Dwarf rootstocks feature an effective feeding root depth of 1-2’, while full-size trees probe 2-3’ deep.The University of California, Santa Cruz, Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems
Cherry tree roots grow to different depths depending on environmental conditions such as:
- Soil packing and quality
- Water content
If tree roots encounter unfavorable conditions, they will not continue to grow. Instead, they will turn horizontally or retreat back towards the surface. For example, roots will only grow a few feet in waterlogged, peaty soil due to the lack of proper aeration. On the other hand, if the soil is loose with good airflow, the deepest roots can reach over three feet.
Typically, cherry trees have some deeper roots that keep them anchored to the soil. The remaining roots are shallow, typically growing no more than three feet below ground. This is because soil near the surface has more favorable conditions for tree growth.
Can Cherry Tree Roots Damage a Fence or Foundation?
The roots of cherry 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 laterally just under the surface. Cherry tree root systems are more likely to destabilize the ground than directly cause any damage.
As mentioned previously, the roots of a cherry tree will grow towards sources of water and oxygen. Although roots are often blamed for interfering with the foundation, they cannot actually harm bedrock through growth. Small tree roots can penetrate pre-existing cracks in the foundation but are not strong enough to cause any damage.
If there is water under the foundation, 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 situation is uncommon and old age is a more likely culprit in foundation damage.
Similarly, cherry tree roots will only invade water lines after cracks have already formed due to natural wear and tear.
The shallow root system of a cherry tree means that the plant is more likely to damage landscaping. Roots farther from the trunk are very close to the surface of the soil, with 90% of a tree’s roots within two feet of the surface. Additionally, roots can damage fence posts 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. It’s important to leave enough space when planting a cherry tree to protect both the plant and any nearby structures.
How Far Away Should You Plant Cherry Trees From a Fence or Foundation?
As a general rule, cherry 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 a cherry 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 above and below ground to avoid sewer lines or overhead power lines. Although cherry 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!
Making sure you choose the right location to plant your cherry tree is important for the health and development of the plant. The 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 that gets too close to the home will cause damage to the tree, restrict access to nutrients, and destabilize it.
If there isn’t adequate space in your yard, a dwarf cherry tree is an attractive option that doesn’t require as much space as the full-grown counterpart.
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 the cherry tree.
In addition to the widespread root systems, there are other downsides to planting a cherry tree too close to your home. The tree branches can rub against the house and scrape against the siding. Additionally, storms could break off these branches and cause damage to the house or any nearby fences. The fruit will attract pollinators and animals such as wasps, squirrels, and mice that you want to keep far from your home.
If you are interested in learning more about planting a cherry tree in your garden, check out this great video by This Old House!