Trees with Invasive Roots

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The weeping willow (Salix x sepulcralis ‘Chrysocoma’) may be a good choice for an urban park, but don’t plant it near a house.

I regularly get questions from home owners worried by the presence of a tree near the foundations of their house or near water or sewer pipes. Usually, however, there is no problem unless the tree is so close to the foundation that its trunk or branches actually rub against it.

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Pipe clogged with silver maple roots (Acer saccharinum).

However, there are are a few trees that should not be planted near a house or underground pipes. These trees have roots that are long and invasive and are known for their ability to block drainage pipes, invade septic tanks and work their way into the cracks of a foundation and thus damage the house. In many municipalities, it is in fact illegal to plant these trees… which doesn’t stop local garden centers from selling them! Check before planting any of the following trees and If you are allowed to plant these trees, plant them at least 100 ft (30m) from any building, pipe, drainage system or septic tank.

Here is the short list of culprits for temperate climates:

American elm (Ulmus americana) Zones 3-8
Poplar (Populus spp.) Zones 2-7
Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) Zone 2
Willow (Salix spp.) Zones 1-10

Note that the shrub willows pose no problem; it is the tall tree willows that are harmful.

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