Shallow roots on trees can lead to two major problems in the home landscape. First, if they are planted near sidewalks or driveways, over decades, they can eventually lift these features out of the ground. Also, roots can emerge from the ground and make mowing grass over them hazardous.

From the tree's standpoint, shallow roots make it more difficult for them to thrive in the typical landscape site. Such roots are more susceptible to the negative effects of soil compaction. As the soil gets harder due to foot or equipment traffic or just because it has a high clay content, the tree finds it difficult to expand its root system. When this happens, the tree is liable to suffer what is called "shade tree decline" which is a nebulous term that means that the plant is just not happy with its site anymore.

Here are some common landscape trees that have shallow root systems:

Genus Common Name
Acer Maple
Ailianthus Tree-of-heaven
Alnus Alder
Gleditsia Honey locust
Morus Mulberry
Platanus Plane tree, sycamore
Populus Poplar
Rhus Sumac
Robinia Black locust
Salix Willow
Ulmus Elm

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.


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