There are many considerations to make before planting cherry trees in your yard or orchard. One common concern is whether cherry trees’ roots will become invasive and wreak havoc in their surroundings.
Cherry tree roots, like all trees’ roots, do have the potential to become invasive depending on where they are planted. It is important to consider the potential problems and solutions posed by cherry tree roots before you begin planting.
It is commonly believed that trees’ roots grow deep and vertically into the soil. This is only partially true.
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Fruit trees have deep taproots that keep them anchored in the soil but their remaining roots are mostly shallow, no more than three feet below ground (source).
This is mainly because, in addition to retrieving water for the tree, the roots are also responsible for gathering nutrients and oxygen from the soil. Oxygen is more abundant in shallow soil than it is deeper down.
The need for oxygen is also why fruit trees will have more roots developing in a horizontal direction than in a vertical direction. They follow the oxygen supply in the soil in all directions from the base of the tree’s trunk. In fact, trees grown on slopes will have roots that grow uphill, following the angle of the slope (source).
Another common belief is that a tree’s root system generally resembles the size and shape of its trunk and branches. The truth is rather more impressive.
A tree’s root system has the potential to extend to a size that’s much larger than the circumference of its leaves and branches! (source)
Full-sized fruit trees, as opposed to dwarf varieties, often have root systems that achieve an area of 33-39 square feet (10-12 square meters) (source).
It’s easy to see how cherry tree roots can become invasive when their root systems are so extensive that close to the surface.
Problems Caused by Cherry Roots
Most problems caused by cherry tree roots stem from one of two things:
- Poor site selection
- New construction within a tree’s root circumference
Poor Site Selection
Site selection is a highly important factor that affects the success of cherry trees. Not only do they require the right kind of soil and full sunlight but they also need a great deal of space.
Depending on the cultivar, cherry trees will need above-ground growing spaces ranging from 10-14 feet for dwarf varieties to 18-25 feet for sweet varieties (source). This fact alone indicates that cherry trees should not be planted close to buildings or other trees.
However, cherry trees’ massive root systems are equally important when choosing a planting site.
In terms of the trees’ own health, cherry trees are less likely to produce a good fruit harvest if their roots are competing with other trees for water and nutrients (source).
There are also concerns about how a tree’s roots will affect existing structures like sidewalks and the foundations of houses, barns, or sheds. It’s important to remember that since cherry tree roots are so shallow, they may come into contact with these structures if they are planted nearby.
Sidewalk cracks and buckling are very common problems with any type of shallow tree root because sidewalks themselves are shallow. Tree roots will follow the oxygen supply in the soil, and since sidewalks don’t inhibit the oxygen supply, they are no match for the roots of a healthy tree (source).
Cherry tree roots don’t pose a huge threat to existing buildings unless they find water underneath the foundations (source). In fact, it’s more likely that existing foundations will pose a threat to the tree’s health since they won’t allow the root systems to grow as extensively as they may need to.
New construction, on the other hand, poses a much larger threat to existing cherry trees’ overall well-being if the construction occurs over the area covered by the trees’ root systems (source).
This problem generally stems from misunderstanding how shallow and extensive root systems really are. Again, for full-sized cherry trees, the root system may cover an area of 33-39 square feet. Any new construction within that area, even small projects like driveways and patios, have the power to cause significant damage to trees (source).
Soil disturbance and removal can deplete the oxygen supply the roots need. Trenching often cuts off massive root pipelines. Often, the mechanical damage caused by new construction leads to the tree’s death (source).
How You Can Prevent the Damage
There are two simple preventative solutions to avoiding damage to your cherry trees’ roots while also avoiding damage they may cause:
- Proper site selection
- Rootstock selection
Proper Site Selection
Proper site selection is the simplest and best way to set yourself up for success with cherry trees.
- Choose a planting location with well-drained sandy or loamy soil that receives full sunlight (six to eight hours per day) and is not too close to other trees or structures.
- Be careful to avoid areas close to where you may wish to build new structures in the future.
- If you want to grow cherries but don’t have adequate space for a full-sized cherry tree, consider dwarf varieties. Dwarf cherries don’t require nearly as much space above or below ground, so you may have an easier time finding a good location to plant them.
- You should also be sure to get a self-fruitful variety of cherry tree, like Montmorency, if your space is limited. Self-fruitful fruit trees can produce fruit on their own; self-unfruitful trees require at least one other tree to be productive (source).
Cherry trees are comprised of two parts: the scion, which is the branches and most of the trunk, and the rootstock, which includes the lower trunk and root system. Cherry trees grown in commercial orchards are all some combination of scions grafted onto rootstocks (source).
Rootstocks control a number of variables, including overall tree size and the extent of the root system. In fact, rootstocks have more control over a cherry tree’s size than the scion does (source).
Dwarfing rootstocks can be an effective solution when adequate space is a problem. Instead of root systems that cover 33-39 square feet, some dwarf varieties’ root systems only grow up to six feet—much easier to accommodate for most growers (source).
There are other advantages to dwarfing rootstocks, as well:
- Dwarf cherry trees start bearing fruit more quickly than full-sized cherry trees, within three to five years of planting.
- They produce fruit more efficiently since they don’t expend as much energy growing upwards.
- Their shorter height makes them easier and safer to harvest and prune (source).
What If My Cherry Tree Is Already Planted?
If your cherry tree is already established in a location where its roots may pose a problem for sidewalks or structures, there are still ways you can limit potential damage.
Where sidewalk buckling is an issue, it may be possible to replace damaged concrete with a wooden bridge or concrete tunnel. This gives the roots room to continue growing while making the sidewalk safer for pedestrians and cyclists (source).
If it seems that your cherry tree’s roots may threaten the foundation of your home or other building, make sure that water isn’t collecting near the foundation.
One way to prevent this is by making sure that gutters drain away from the base of your house. Landscaping that requires large amounts of water should also be moved further away from the house if you suspect that excess water may be gathering there (source).
Cherry tree roots can be invasive, but when growers choose the right planting location and the right rootstocks, they can avoid many potential problems. When cherries are planted away from existing structures, planned construction, and other trees, their root systems are unlikely to be cause for concern.
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