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Planning Your Spring Landscaping: How close to my house can I plant?

Many of us are starting to plan out our spring gardens and landscaping. If your ideas this year include planting a new tree or large shrub next to your home, then planning ahead is especially important. They are a great addition to your property and they are beautiful, but every plant or tree is different and has different needs in order to thrive--and maybe most importantly--every plant has a unique requirement for space. They certainly need room to grow.

We can't just plant them anywhere, and we need to account for their adult size when choosing their location on our property. Here are some things to consider when planting shrubs or trees around your home:

  • Garden shovelWhy does it matter where we plant trees? Tree roots can cause varying degrees of structural damage to your home depending on the proximity to the dwelling and the type of tree. Ficus trees, for example, have very aggressive root systems and even a small tree planted close to a structure will cause foundation and plumbing damage due to root intrusion. Trees like Oaks and Maples have massive root systems but actually may cause less damage because the roots generally will go around obstructions rather than through them.
  • Tree roots can sometimes cause plumbing problems. Unfortunately, aggressive root systems can bore through older, brittle plumbing compenents like cast iron and clay that are under the structure. Large roots can also crush plumbing components. Electronic scoping of plumbing, by licensed contractors, have revealed infiltration of root systems blocking drainage in municipal systems as well as septic systems. Repairs for this type of damage can be costly.
  • Roots can damage walkways and driveways. Root systems that heave walkways and driveways not only cause concrete and asphalt damage, but also create a “trip hazard” due to uneven surfaces.
  • Avoid planting shrubbery too close to your home. The biggest problem seen with regard to shrubbery growing on the structure is “moisture.” Shrubbery that is in contact with the structure can be a conducive termite condition as well as a key factor in siding deterioration whether it be stucco, or composition material.
  • Moisture & Termites: Trees, shrubbery, and plants are organic “cellulose based” organisms. Termites eat cellulose for sustenance. Whenever you plant anything close to the structure it is important to consider the possibility that you may be planting a food source for termites. Because termites are migratory, if they attack a tree or shrub near the structure it is likely that they will continue on and look for another food source which may, unfortunately, be your house.
  • Drainage Problems at the Foundation: Water is probably the single most important factor in structural deterioration. A qualified inspector will always assess the grade around the property looking for inverted grading or areas where pooling of water may occur. The best way to avoid structural deterioration due to water is to keep the dwelling dry. Landscaping is an important component to help achieve a dry house. Planting according to area specific types and species will help to insure that excess water will be soaked up by plants, shrubs, trees, and lawn. Properties with poorly maintained landscaping are more susceptible to water penetration issues.
  • Over-hanging Trees & Gutters: Properly installed gutters and downspouts are a key factor in water diversion.  Faulty gutters or downspouts that drain water too close to the foundation will contribute to “water wicking” into the foundation and foundation walls. Trees with limbs that overhang roofs can also be a source of contributing water damage. Debris from overhanging trees that accumulates on roofing material will cause pre-mature deterioration.  In addition, if an overhanging tree limbs break and contact the roof or other parts of the structure severe damage can occur. 

More Information
ArborDay.org: Find the Right Tree for the Right Place, How-To Instructions.