On average, a foundation for a house costs $27,000, so it’s no surprise that we’d want to prevent root damage from plants like cherry trees. So, are cherry tree roots invasive?
Cherry trees have moderately invasive roots. While they can cause damage, the risk is reduced if you plant them at least 25 feet away from structures and choose less invasive rootstocks. You can also plant in containers or root barriers. Avoid planting near items such as foundations, fences, pipes, and fire hydrants.
How far and deep do cherry tree roots grow? Can they still cause damage to your fence or foundation?
Let’s explore the answers to these questions and more.
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
How can you try to prevent the roots from growing further than normal?
Provide the tree with the above list of resources
In the search for these resources, cherry tree roots tend to develop in the horizontal direction. If the soil is heavily compacted or lacks 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 of up to 3x 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 considered moderately invasive because it often depends on soil conditions.
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 feet of soil. Other, deeper roots can be found in 12-16″, with some reaching up to 3 feet deep.
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
One of the deepest roots in 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. Soil near the surface has more favorable conditions for tree growth.
While many factors contribute to the depth of cherry tree roots, the main factors are the soil’s water, nutrients, and looseness.
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.
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 toward sources of water and oxygen. Although roots are often blamed for interfering with the foundation, they cannot actually harm the 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 2 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 To Plant Cherry Trees
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 its 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.
How to Control Cherry Tree Roots
Generally, you don’t need to worry about controlling cherry trees roots. But, if you’re in a unique situation where you do, here are the best four ways to manage them:
- Root barrier
- Root pruning
- Growing in a pot or container
- Growing in a raised bed
The best way to control a cherry tree’s roots is with a root barrier. You can also keep the tree in a raised bed or pot, or prune its roots. However, pruning a cherry tree’s roots can stunt the plant and is more upkeep than simply keeping it in a root barrier or pot. For these reasons, pruning is best avoided.
Root barriers are used to redirect the cherry tree roots deeper into the soil and away from structures and other plants. This physical blocker protects your property as well as the cherry tree. On the other hand, planting the cherry tree in a pot naturally binds its roots.
Keep in mind that it’s a best practice to provide your potted cherry trees with a new, larger container and fresh potting soil every 3-5 years. If you feel comfortable, you can also prune the roots during this time to slow the plant’s growth.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. Check out this list to see your local services.
- Permaculture Consultation: Need help with a bigger project? Send us a message.
For more information about planting and caring for fruit trees, check out this recent video I made: