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Are Grapevines Invasive (& Are Their Roots Damaging)?

We’re thinking about getting another grapevine, but we’re concerned that it might compete with other plants or damage the concrete foundation for our patio. So, I did some research to find out more. Here’s what I found.

Grape plants aren’t invasive as their roots typically grow 3 to 5 feet long. However, their vines can strangle some smaller plants if they’re used as a trellis. For this reason, make sure other, nearby plants are larger than the grapevine. Once planted, grapevines can be difficult to remove, so plant wisely!

So, while grapevines aren’t invasive in most situations, just how long and deep do their roots grow, and will they cause damage to structures? Let’s take a closer look.

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Roots of a grapevine in a vineyard

How Long Do Grapevine Roots Grow?

Generally, the majority of grapevine roots grow between 3-5 feet long. The main job of these roots is to search for and obtain water and nutrients for the plant, but some finer roots work with mycorrhizal fungi for extra benefits.

Most ‘fine roots’ that absorb water and nutrients are concentrated in the top meter of soil.

Tim Martinson, senior extension associate in the Section of Horticulture, based at Cornell Agritech in Geneva, NY

The roots of grapevines are responsible for gathering primary resources from the surrounding environment, such as:

  • Nutrients
  • Water
  • Oxygen

Ideally, the best soil for grapevines is one that’s loose, rich, moist, and has an acidic pH of 5.5-6.5 (source). Soil that meets all three of these qualities will promote the best root growth.

ph scale couch to homestead

The reason why grapevines grow shallow roots is that the topsoil is where much of the nutrients and water is located. Because of this, some grapevines are poorly anchored from the wind and large herbivores.

However, grapevines can have their root growth further limited by:

  • Extremely cold weather
  • Compact soil
  • Lack of water
  • Lack of nutrients

Soil compaction is common in suburban areas or construction sites and will give grapevines a hard time growing their roots.

And this issue is made worse with heavy clay soils.

Compact clay soil not only makes it difficult for the plant’s roots to grow but creates poor drainage and high alkalinity, leading to poor nutrient uptake. Some acidity in the soil is needed to dissolve the solid nutrients and make them accessible to the tree’s finer roots.

Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil. Before a nutrient can be used by plants it must be dissolved in the soil solution. Most minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in acid soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.

Donald Bickelhaupt, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

This is why the ideal soil for grapevines is loose, well-draining, and has an acidic pH.

If you’d like to learn more about planting in or amending clay soil, check out my recent post: Can Fruit Trees Grow in Clay Soil (& How Do You Plant Them)?.

Keep in mind that most plants (including grapevines) start growing their roots from April to November, with two big surges in-between. The first surge in root growth is in the spring—when the plant needs many nutrients to develop fruit. And the second surge is in the summer—when the plant is gathering nutrients to prepare for winter dormancy and sheds its leaves.

Generally, grapevines start growing their roots again once the soil temperature reaches 55ºF or higher.

If all of these ideal growing conditions are met, grapevine roots can grow around 3-5 feet long. But just how deep do they grow?

How Deep Do Grapevine Roots Grow?

concord grape roots dug up
Photo by Terry Bates

Grapevines have shallow roots, with 90% of their roots found in the first 2 feet of soil. While many factors contribute to the exact depth of grapevine roots, the main ones are water, nutrients, and space.

Martin Dobson, of the Arboricultural Advisory and Information Service, has this to say about plant roots.

Most roots are found close to the surface, with 90% or more of all roots located in the upper 60cm [24 inches].

Martin Dobson, Arboricultural Advisory and Information Service

And while he was specifically referring to tree roots, you can see in the image above that the same is true for grapevine roots.

The deepest root is the taproot, which has the main function of establishing a foundation for the rest of the roots. The taproot is one of the first roots to grow and can assess the nutrient and water potency of the soil. It commonly grows to a depth of around 2-3 feet. If the taproot is damaged or broken, it’s unlikely to grow back and the rest of the plant can become stunted.

Grapevine roots grow to different depths depending on environmental conditions such as:

  • Soil packing and quality
  • Oxygen or space
  • Water source

Specifically, grapevines watered via drip irrigation usually have roots found close to the drip pipes. This is a fairly common practice for most vineyards. On the other hand, those that are watered with rainwater or sprinklers will have a more even layer of roots.

Raised beds generally have loose soil, so they promote deeper roots with grapevines. This can be an advantage as the deeper roots can access more soil, potentially leading to increased nutrient uptake.

Compared to clay soils, grapevines grow much deeper in sandy soils as it’s more spacious and acidic. To help increase the acidity and nutrients, you can use amendments such as coffee grounds, which are also naturally more acidic.

Sometimes, gardeners are concerned that grapevine roots will damage pipes or structures such as foundations. So, is there any truth to this?

Can Grapevine Roots Damage Property or Structures?

Grapevine roots won’t initiate a crack in the foundation, but they can aggravate one if they’re planted too close. This is due to the shallow root systems that spread horizontally just under the surface. For this reason, keep grapevines at least 5 feet away from any structures.

While unlikely, grapevines can potentially aggravate any existing damage to these structures:

  • Pipes
  • Sidewalks
  • Other concrete pathways
  • Parts of driveways

While it makes sense that roots can further the gaps in existing cracks, gardeners are divided on their thoughts about plant roots seeking out and damaging water pipes.

So, what’s the verdict?

In the book The Hidden Life of Trees, German forester Peter Wohlleben busts the myth that a plant’s roots are attracted to water from water pipes. He writes that the more likely case why they’re attracted to the pipes is that they generally have looser ground, which allows for more air and space for root growth. Any water leaking from a pipe is more of a bonus for the plant.

So, if you’re planting grapevines near sidewalks, other concrete pathways, or pipes, it’s a good idea to keep the plants at least 5 feet away.

However, grapevine roots are not as strong as other plant roots, such as fruit trees. For this reason, grapevine roots are not likely to pose an issue.

If there is water under the foundation, roots can absorb this water and dry out shrinkable clay soils.

The most likely scenario is the grapevine roots displacing concrete as it absorbs the water found underneath it, causing the soil to shrink.

Shrinking soil can indirectly lead to structural damage with the depletion of soil moisture, causing the foundation to recede into the ground. But this situation is uncommon and a foundation’s age is a more likely culprit in its damage.

Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Because of this, plant grapevines at least 5 from structures if possible!

How Far Away Should You Plant Grapevines From Other Plants?

As a general rule, plant grape plants at least 3-5 feet away from other plants. This will help avoid root and nutrient competition. However, keep grapevines within 50 feet of other flowering plants for best pollination results.

Simply put, it’s not likely that pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, will visit both the flowering companion plants and the grapevine at distances over 50 feet. While most grapes are self-pollinating, they still share mutual benefits with other plants.

If you’re looking at using a tree as a living trellis for your grapevine (a good idea by the way), make sure the tree is an established size and will continue to be larger than the grapevine.

For example, the average size for a 5-year-old grape canopy is about 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide. However, in certain cases, they can grow up to 50 feet tall (source). This can pose a problem as the grapevines can strangle and weigh down smaller trees and other trellises—especially if there’s snow or ice.

So, planting your grapevine slightly apart from structures and other plants is the best way to prevent any potential root damage. However, what are some other methods of control?

How To Control Grapevine Roots

The best way to control grapevine is with a root barrier. You can also keep the tree in a raised bed or pot, or prune its roots. However, pruning a grapevine’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.

Generally, you don’t need to worry about controlling grapevine roots. However, 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

Root barriers are used to redirect the grapevine deeper into the soil and away from structures and other plants. This physical blocker protects your property as well as the grape plant. On the other hand, planting the grapevine in a pot naturally binds its roots.

Keep in mind that it’s a best practice to provide your potted grapevines 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.

Also, if you’d like to get an idea of a good root barrier you can use for your plants, this root barrier on Amazon is a popular choice.

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