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Are any of these badly behaving trees or shrubs near your home? Here are the worst (and best) trees to plant close to your house. Plus, we’ll explain why you don’t want trees and shrubs closing in on your home, and some general guidelines on how far away a tree needs to be.
Planting Trees and Shrubs Near the House
We all enjoy landscaping around our home. And it’s not just about flowers.
Small trees and shrubs nestle your home into the landscape while hiding the ugly look of concrete blocks, cement, walls, or piers. They ease the transition from lawn to building.
Evergreen shrubs are used most often and are valued for their ability to mask the foundation while providing a backdrop for other plants. Small trees add a higher level of interest.
Unfortunately, these cute trees and shrubs don’t stay small forever. We have all seen houses with bushes covering the windows or trees towering over them and growing too close to the outside wall.
Along with blocking the view, there are other considerations when it comes to planting trees near the home:
Trees and tree limbs that are too nearby can fall and endanger your roof and house.
Trees trap moisture that can deteriorate siding and rot sills and encourage mold formation.
Leaves and debris clog gutters and block AC units, electrical boxes, gas meters, and hose bibs, which can interfere with overhead power lines.
Trees closing in on your house raise the humidity, attracting pesky bugs and mosquitos.
Limbs that hang over your home are easy jumping points for squirrels and critters to reach your roof and enter your home.
These are the visible issues, but what is going on unseen underground can be a bigger problem:
Strong growing, thirsty roots look for any crevice they can enter in search of moisture. They can invade water and sewer lines, leach fields, and underground utilities.
They suck so much moisture from the soil around them that it dries out and shrinks away from foundation walls putting the structural integrity of the foundation you are trying to hide at risk.
Roots can invade the concrete, causing small cracks to become large cracks eventually, and they can grow under nearby patios, driveways, and walkways, causing paving to heave and break.
Don’t Plant These Trees Near Your House
Not all trees and shrubs cause problems. These are some of the worst offenders:
Arborvitae grow fast, up to 3 feet a year, eventually reaching 40 to 60 feet tall! They start as neat upright columns but need regular pruning to maintain that shape. Plant them as a screen or hedge away from the house.
Oaks can reach 100 feet tall, making them frequent lightning rods. Plant them at least 20 feet away from your house. Grow them well away from overhead power lines, too.
Forget about white ash. Its roots grow sideways and can break paving and concrete. Also, the emerald ash borer will kill it anyway, leaving you with a tall dead tree to remove.
Poplars are fast growers. Their roots need moisture and will invade any leaky pipe they can find. Depending on the variety, they can grow 50 to 150 feet tall but are brittle and tend to drop limbs and branches. Never plant them near your house.
Privet hedges are popular for privacy and screening but are planted too close to the house, and they will soon cover the wall, blocking the windows. The roots pry their way into tiny crevices in the foundation and expand as they grow, breaking the cement. Plant them well away from the house, but remember that the leaves and berries are toxic to people and pets.
Who doesn’t love the look of a graceful weeping willow but its thirsty root system is massive! Keep it far away from your leach field and any underground utilities.
Sweet gum trees have large surface roots that can invade foundations, patios, walkways, or driveways. No paved surface is safe!
Norway and silver maples have problems at the top and bottom. Their robust root system can crack paving, and the trees can grow over 100 feet tall with lots of brittle branches that can break and fall on your roof in a wind storm.
Bradford Pear, a common street tree, has structural problems and can break during a storm.
Guidelines on Planting Trees Near a House
What’s a homeowner to do? Before you invest the money, time, and effort involved in planting a new tree or shrub, do some homework.
Find out the plant’s mature height, width, and root spread. Roots can spread twice as wide as a tree is tall!
Plant at ¾ the maximum mature height away from your house, and those with aggressive, thirsty roots such as elm, maple, and willow should be planted at the maximum height or farther away to avoid future problems.
Remember the 6 “S” es:
Space – How much room do I have for this plant?
Soil – What are the soil conditions?
Safety – Will it block sight lines at the corner of a driveway? Fall on the roof? Interfere with power lines?
Size –What is the mature height and width of the plant?
Spread – How far will the roots spread?
Situation – Is it appropriate for the site?
Some Good Trees and Shrubs to Plant Near Your House
Some small ornamental trees can be planted near the house, as can low-growing varieties of shrubs.
A good rule of thumb is to plant small trees 8 to 10 feet away from your home, but you need to check a tree’s spread at maturity.