TX Organic Research Center



Tree Roots & Irrigation Systems, Tree Roots Near Structures, Trees In Black Dirt, Espalier Recommend
January 10, 2003
By Howard Garrett

Q. Can tree roots hurt an irrigation system? My neighbor hates trees and as such thinks two trees on my property with roots in his yard can harm his system. He also does not like the leaves in his yard! I am ready to move back east where people appreciate trees. Also can the trees be too close to the house to cause foundation damage? I know you have said no in the past. These are fairly large trees about 5 feet from my house. – B.G., Dallas

A. Don’t leave. Most of us appreciate trees, even more than some folks back east. Actually, I have had tree roots break sprinkler lines in my yard. It happens but is rare. Roots grow and expand both in length and diameter. If they are close to or touching utility lines, the expanding roots can stretch and rupture the lines. It is an extremely common situation to have tree roots and sprinkler lines in the same place. The only solution is to talk to your neighbor and try to work it out. On the other hand, if your tree is a fruitless mulberry, Siberian elm, sycamore or silver maple, I’m voting with the neighbor – cut them down! You could then plant quality trees and install a root barrier (gravel in a ditch) and eliminate the situation of roots growing into the neighbor’s yard.

Trees growing close to structures are no problem unless there is a flawed foundation, a drainage problem or a leak under the house. If these situations don’t exist, there will be less moisture under the house than outside the foundation. That’s important because trees stay where the moisture is – outside the foundation. Trees rarely dip under beams to grow and suck the moisture from under a slab. Nor does that happen on pier and beam structures. A root barrier can be put in the ground between the tree and foundation but I normally find them unnecessary. The most cost effective and efficient root barrier is the beam of the house itself. Trees near houses do far more good than harm. They add beauty, provide shade, attract birds, and increase property value. Foundation problems are a landscape management issue. Make sure drainage away from the house is positive and simply water the landscape in a reasonable way. Don’t let the plants die, in other words.

Q. I am considering moving to a house that does not have any trees. What kind of trees survive best in black dirt? The house is on one acre so I would probably plant a mixture of fruit and shade trees. – D.S., Heath, TX

A. My favorites for black soil are bur oak, Texas red oak, Texas ash, caddo maple, shantung maple, Chinese pistachio, bald cypress, native pecan and chinkapin oak. Good small ornamental trees include crape myrtle, Mexican plum, rusty blackhaw viburnam, Eve’s necklace, yaupon holly and Japanese maple. The easiest to grow fruit trees include Holland apple, Orient pear, fig, jujube, caddo and Kanza pecan.

Q. I know you dislike heavy pruning, but would you recommend a hardy ornamental tree to espalier along a fence? Also, what is your top pick of a tree for yellow fall color? – L.H., Little Elm

A. ‘Little Gem’ magnolia is one of the best choices for training on a fence or wall. Yaupon and ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ are two hollies that will work well. Some of my favorite fall color trees include ginkgo, cedar elm, Mexican buckeye, white crape myrtle and witch hazel. Those that have yellow along with pink, orange and red include Chinese pistachio, Texas ash and several of the maples.

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