My parents have several citrus trees on their property and they’re looking at getting a few more. The only thing is, they’re considering planting them near the house. So, to help them out, I did a little research to make sure it was okay and the roots wouldn’t cause them any trouble. Here’s what I found.
Citrus trees have roots that tend to grow vigorously, and these roots can become invasive as they spread. They can be destructive to the foundations of homes if they’re planted too close to them. Planting dwarf citrus trees or planting away from buildings is the best way to prevent damage.
So, while citrus trees offer us amazing fruits and aromatic flowers, their roots can definitely cause issues if allowed. But how exactly how invasive are citrus tree roots, and how far should you plant citrus trees from buildings or structures? Let’s take a closer look.
How Invasive Are Citrus Tree Roots?
Citrus trees commonly reach a depth of 2-3 feet and a length that matches the drip line of the tree (typically about 8 feet). However, mature and full-sized citrus trees can have roots that extend up to 40 feet long. Fortunately, as much as 80% of the citrus tree’s roots are concentrated in the first 2 feet of soil.
Also, even though some citrus trees can reach a length of up to 40 feet, this usually only occurs for very mature citrus trees that are not dwarf or semi-dwarf variety.
The difference between invasive and non-invasive tree roots is the tree’s variety, placement, and soil conditions.
Still, citrus trees that are planted too close to concrete structures including homes, driveways, or sewer systems have the potential to suffer from invasive and damaging roots.
This is because citrus trees do what all trees do and search for the most water and food they can find, so their roots will spread out as much as possible. The only problem is this might be too close to your home.
Roots are attracted to the foundations and plumbing of houses as they seek to acquire moisture and nutrients. And what better source of water and nutrients than the sewers and foundations from a house?
It’s not common that citrus tree roots are responsible for structural damage, but that’s usually only because they’re also not planted near buildings often as they cast too much shade over the sun-hungry trees.
Next, let’s take a look at exactly how deep citrus tree roots grow and if they have a tap root.
How Deep Do Citrus Roots Go?
While the majority of citrus tree roots won’t exceed a depth of 2-3 feet, their taproots can reach up to 18 feet below the surface. However, most citrus tree’s taproot usually reaches about 9-10 feet. The depth of a citrus tree’s roots depends on the tree’s variety, soil, and watering schedule.
A taproot grows down vertically and helps anchor the tree and access the deeper water tables. Also, not all citrus trees have a taproot, but most do. Overall, citrus tree taproots can reach a depth of up to 9-10 feet in normal soil conditions but can reach 18 feet in sandy and loose soils.
Once a citrus tree is well established in the ground, feeder and lateral roots will branch out of the taproot to search for water and nutrients. The majority of these roots will remain within the first 2-3 feet of soil.
However, the tree’s tendency to grow roots to seek out water may cause them to run into sewer pipes and other structures that have flowing water. If a pipe that’s near a citrus tree has a leak, and the tree’s roots detect it, it’ll likely grow the roots to access more of its water and further damage the pipe.
Keep in mind that trees that are watered for longer sessions will grow deeper roots to access the deeper water.
So, even though deep watering citrus trees will promote deeper roots, this can actually be a good thing.
Citrus trees with deeper roots will be better able to survive drought, access more nutrients, and will be better anchored against the wind.
However, there are times when you might not want your citrus tree to have deep roots, such as if you have plumbing or other pipes running near the tree.
Naturally, if citrus trees are watered more lightly and frequently, they’ll develop shallow root systems to access more of the shallow water.
Still, the good news is that it’s not difficult to prevent citrus tree roots from becoming damaging. The best way to prevent this is to consider the appropriate distance to plant citrus trees away from structures.
How Far From the House Should You Plant Citrus Trees?
To avoid damage to the house’s foundation, plant full-sized citrus trees at least 40 feet away and semi-dwarf varieties 20 feet away. Most true dwarf varieties won’t grow thick or long roots, so planting them at least 10-15 feet away should suffice. You can also keep dwarf citrus trees potted to limit root spread.
When it comes to determining how close you should plant your citrus tree to your home, figuring out the expected height of the tree can be helpful. Generally, the taller the tree, the thicker, longer, and deeper its roots will be.
Expect roots to grow at least to the drip line of the tree (the full reach of the canopy), if not further.
If you’re unsure of the maximum height of the tree, or the variety you have, you can contact the nursery or company you purchased the tree from.
Don’t worry—planting citrus trees is not as complicated as you might think. A simple rule of thumb is to plant your trees in open spaces, and up to 40 feet away from any structures, such as houses, decks, or patios.
If you don’t have much space and planting near one of these structures is your only option, you can also install a root barrier. If you’re interested, I found this root barrier on Amazon that will work for citrus trees.
Putting these barriers between any structures and the citrus tree will encourage the roots to grow farther down instead of spreading out, as the roots will have trouble bypassing the barrier. These barriers also promote better anchoring for the tree as well as drought-tolerance since the deeper roots will access deeper water tables.
Also, keep in mind that when choosing a planting location, citrus trees also benefit from well-draining soil as to not get waterlogged or have their roots suffocate from lack of air and space.
If you’re also wondering how far apart to plant citrus trees from each other, I wrote a post on this recently. You can visit the post by clicking the link above if you’re interested.
Another option you can do if you don’t have much space is to plant dwarf citrus trees. These can be safely planted much closer to your house than regular citrus trees, as their roots grow much smaller.
Potted dwarf citrus trees also tend to grow well indoors if you want to avoid the possibility of invasive roots altogether.
What’s the Best Way To Plant Citrus Trees?
While there are a few steps to plant citrus trees correctly, if you do it right, you should only need to do it once during the lifetime of the tree (unless it’s potted—in that case, it needs to be repotted every 3-5 years).
Here are 7 steps to properly plant a citrus tree in your garden:
- Choose a location that has well-draining soil, full sun, and is at least 10-40 feet away (depending on the variety) from any structure
- Dig a hole that is twice as wide and slightly deeper than the root ball of the tree
- Gently remove the tree from its pot by removing some of the soil and pulling lightly from the base of the trunk (careful not to damage the taproot)
- Place the tree in the dugout hole and check that all of the roots are in the hole and not above ground
- Fill in the hole with sandy, loamy soil and adjust the tree if needed (make sure the base of the trunk is slightly under the top line of the soil and no roots are exposed)
- Optional: add 1-2 inches of mulch or compost on top of the soil for better moisture retention and a slow drip of nutrients for the tree (just don’t let the mulch or compost touch the tree directly as it can chemically burn the tree or introduce fungus)
- Provide the tree with a deep watering to help the tree adjust to the new environment and activate its roots
Planting citrus trees isn’t difficult, but it can take time and effort to do it right.
If you’d like, here are some more tips to help your newly planted citrus tree get adjusted to its new environment and begin to thrive:
- Consider waiting a week before transplanting your citrus tree from its pot to introduce it to its new environment. This means placing the pot on the spot you’ll be planting it and providing it with plenty of sun and water.
- When planting, take care to avoid thorns! To see which citrus trees have thorns, check out my other post here.
- Try pruning some of the overhead trees or consider planting the citrus tree alongside a southern-facing wall for maximum sun-exposure.
- The best time to plant a citrus tree is after the last frost. This way the citrus tree won’t have to try to survive through the frost and can focus on growing successfully in its new environment. Temperatures above 45ºF are best.
- Use an organic citrus fertilizer at the start of each growing season. To see which citrus tree fertilizers I recommend, check out my recommended citrus fertilizer page.