“How close should I plant a tree to my house?” is a question I have been getting a lot lately. It makes sense as it is Spring tree planting season. Today I will try to answer this question.
Why would I want to plant a tree close to my house?
There are at least two reasons you would want to plant a tree close to your house. They are aesthetic and energy savings.
Aesthetic reasons to plant a tree close
The main aesthetic reasons to plant a tree close to your house is it just looks better there.
It is because we typically plant trees much smaller then they will ultimately grow. We see the cute little plant we are putting into the ground and think it looks ridiculously small planted thirty feet away from our front door.
Of course we know that trees DO grow. That little oak tree will hopefully eventually grow to look something like the mature ones we see that dot my neighborhood.
But that it will probably be LONG gone before this happens in your yard with a Burr Oak. So instead we plant that tree a lot closer to our house so that it looks good now. Or at least sooner.
It’s understandable. It just looks better 10-20 feet from your house then it does 30-40. Plus you will get some shade on our house sooner, which could result in energy savings.
Energy saving reasons to plant a tree close
The other reason to plant a tree close to your house is to help keep it cool in the summer. This can help you save on your air conditioning costs.
Some guidelines for planting trees for energy savings include:
- Plant large deciduous shade trees on the east, west and southwest sides of the home to shade your house. Avoid planting them south where they block the warming winter sun.
- Shade air conditioning condensers to make them more efficient. Shrubs or a small tree can do this easily.
- Plant trees and shrubs that will act as wind tunnels to direct breezes into the house. Limb the branches up to allow breezes to pass under shade trees.
Shading your house with a tree
The sun is highest and hottest in the early afternoon just after noon. For houses however, this sun typically hits the roof.
To help cool our home’s interiors, we should be shading the late afternoon sun which is coming in at a lower angle and can enter our houses through the windows. This sun also heats ours walls which can then radiate into our homes into the early evening.
The Distance a tree is set from the house will control the amount of shade a tree gives in a certain area.
- Since the sun at noon is is so high in the sky, even a tree 40 -50 feet high will cast a small shadow at this time.
- The same tree, with say a 30-foot spread will cast a shadow equal to the tree height at 3 to 4 p.m. in midsummer.
Therefore in order to get the most useful shade on the house, you should place a shade tree about 20 feet from the house.
Problems from planting a tree too close to your house
If 20 feet will make our 40 feet tree cast the most shade on our house, why couldn’t we also plant one 5 feet from our house for even more shade?
There are 3 main issues that could result from planting a shade tree too close to our house.
- Mechanical damage – roots get near a foundation or utility line, & exert pressure against it. Hence the raised and broken sidewalks we see near some species of tree, such as Norway maples.
- Trees make the soil moisture fluctuate due to taking water up. This can cause problems when soils expand & contract which can stress your foundation by pressure.
- A branch could fall on a house, or the tree could topple.
How wide and deep will the roots extend?
In general, tree roots grow between one and three times the width of the canopy of the tree. This does not mean that you have to freak out all the trees in your yard are reaching out and trying to destroy your house and sidewalks.
The reality is that most of these tree roots will not be that large or strong. These are mostly smaller fibrous root hairs and the smaller roots that support them. There are exceptions though.
Trees with aggressive roots
These trees are probably NOT safe to plant even 20 feet away from your foundation. There are enough other better trees to plant in residential settings, so don’t bother with these.
If you must have them, get them way out there away from foundations, water pipes, septic fields, and sidewalks.
Poplars, Cottonwoods and Aspens (Populus) – nearly all have wide-spreading root systems that desperately seek out water. They are one of the worst to plant near homes.
Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) – have shallow and dense roots, plant well away from foundations.
Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) – Large, near the surface roots are notorious for raising concrete. There really is no reason to plant this invasive bully when there are so many better trees.
Willows (Salix spp.) – all of the tree’s have extensive root systems which help to anchor willows in their native wet environments. They also run deep looking for moisture. Definitely keep these away from your home, septic and water systems. These trees really don’t belong anywhere near a home.
American Elm (Ulmus americana) – American Elms have deep roots that often clog sewer lines and drains. These should also be kept well away from anything related to water.
Two Others to avoid near your foundation: Black alder (Alnus glutinosa) and Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).
Smaller trees can be planted closer
If you want to plant a tree closer then 20 feet from your house, say 10 feet, it’s best to plant one that has well behaved roots. These include most smaller trees like crabapples and serviceberry as well as most conifers.
Some trees like Japanese maples can be planted as close as a few feet away from a foundation and pose virtually no risk to the foundation.
For more information on some other smaller trees that can be planted closer then 20 feet see my posts on Paperbark and Three-Flower Maples as well as my posts on More smaller shade trees and Smaller understory trees for your yard.
Looking at both a Eastern redbud tree and a Chinese lacebark tree for my home, however I am limited with space. How far should I plant either one of these from my home to avoid any potential damage.
Vivian Black says
Thank you for the suggestion to plant silver maple trees a far distance from your home because of the shallow and dense roots that can cause damage to the foundation. We bought a home with a silver maple very close to the house. We are worried about the structural damage it can cause. Calling a tree removal service is our next step.
TIM PAINE says
This is a really nice blog. There are many benefits to planting trees in the garden. I like planting trees in my garden (You might found this helpful, https://edenhorticultural.co.uk/blog/benefits-of-planting-trees/)
Thanks for the nice comments. I am glad you enjoyed it.
Ruth P. says
I bought a house 2 years ago. It has two gorgeous Chinese Elms in the back. However, one of them is only about 2 feet from the house. It has a trunk diameter of about 18-24 inches. It looks to be about 40 feet tall. Is it full grown? Should I have it removed? If so, how do I kill the root system so it doesn’t spring up shoots? I cut a smaller on down to the stump, but it’s wanting to grow back.
Hi Jim, I live in Ontario, Canada. I have large Manitoba Maple (elderbox) that has grown at the corner of my home. I believe that the tree should be removed since its at the corner of the house & concerned about the foundation. My partner wants it save because of the shade provided.
What is your thought on this.
I had a large Manitoba Maple about 30ft from my house. Two winters ago it just started falling apart. The first part fell near my husbands truck, thankfully it did not cause any damage. A couple of months later another part of the tree fell apart and landed on my husband’s friends boat…the boat did not make it and now I own money for that…I had the remaining part of the tree removed, but I am now having issues with nothing willing to grow near where that tree was.
From my research I have discovered Manitoba Maples emit some type of toxin into the ground so other trees and plants can not grow there. So until I kill all the roots etc. It is going to take a long time before I can grow another tree in the area, which I really need as my bedroom no longer has shade and is hot as hades in the summer now.
If you remove the tree make sure you remove or kill as much of the root system as possible or you will have the same problems I am having. After removing as much of this tree as you can find your area and find a nice native replacement tree. That is what I am doing now. I am thinking of going with a Red Oak planted a several feet away from the manitoba maple’s trunk.
I have a small front yard and plan on planting an Autumn Blaze Maple tree on the side of the garage (between our neighbours and our property). If I think 20 feet away from the house, it will almost be at the edge of my front yard – almost on the sidewalk.
What is the minimum distance I should keep between the house and the tree? I live in Toronto.
My neighbours have a Blue Spruce near their garage and it’s only 4 feet away from their house. Please advice. Thank you.
20′, I probably would pick a different tree with a less aggressive root system and growth rate. You might be OK at 15′ but probably it will cause issues eventually. Colorado spruce has a fibrous root system that shouldn’t cause issues, but that plant will probably be cut down after it starts growing into their house.
Billie Jo Lauritzen says
I have a red maple tree that is young. I live in northern Illinois. I want to plant the tree in the back yard for shade. How far from my foundation (I have a basement) should this tree be planted? If this a bad choice, could you recommend a tree you would plant.
I’m planting a DURA HEAT River Birch this September, how far distance do you recommend is okay (from the house)? Planting it in the back yard, on the west side of our house. Thank you!
How far away do you plan on putting it?
How far away do you plan on putting it?
I have a space 15 up to 20 feet away OR it will have to go further (I really wanted some shade for my patio, AC & deck all which sit right in the sun all afternoon). Thoughts appreciated. Thank you,
In most cases I would think 20 feet would be an adequate distance, but I would have to see the site to be verify.
I have a space 18 to 20 feet away from the house OR it will have to go further (I really wanted some shade for my patio, AC & deck all which sit right in the sun all afternoon). Thoughts appreciated. Thank you,
How far from a wall should a Plumeria be planted
Sorry I have no idea we don’t have a lot of those in Illinois. You could call a local arborist company and see if they could give a recommendation.
How far away should I plant a thornless and seedless honey locusts from the House? (The tree is from Sun Burst). Thank you!
Emy Trieu says
I live in Toronto and 2 years ago a maple tree started to grow in our backyard. I love trees and want to keep it. But my family worry about it being too close to the house. It is 11.5 feet from our house and about 5 feet from our fence between us and the neighbor. My question is should I cut the tree down? It is taller than me now. Lol
good day ..I have ..bay trees each side of my back door ..about two feet from the wall..is this ok..worried about the roots..its about 4 feet tall at the moment..please advise
James Bessner says
I have a silver maple tree in my back yard that’s about 10 feet from a garage that I will be having built. Should I remove the tree before I start, to prevent future issues with the garage pad. Currently the tree has a diameter of about 42 inches. The pad will have 12 inch footers. Thanks so much in advance of your reply.
Depends if you like the big tree more than the new garage.
Do Paper Birch have “well behaved” roots?
I think so. Certainly not like a Norway maple or willow.
I love flowering pear trees, how close should I plant them to my house?
About 10,000 miles. I hate Flowering pears for so many reasons.
Cartrell Bounds says
I just purchased a home in Olive Branch Ms. With a pin Oak tree in the yard approximately 40 ft tall and 25 ft from the home an sewer line could this be potential problem for me in the future?
I think you should be fine.
Rose Trader says
Hi there! I have a very large 3 tier landscaping bed. I would like to put a Japanese Maple in the middle tier on the corner (the retention wall wraps around the side of the house) . I am not worried about the distance to the house foundation since the middle tier is a good 15 feet from the house, but rather, how the roots will grow and affect the landscaping retention walls. Is there a depth I can plant the trunk of the tree, to get the roots to grow deeper into the ground/earth to avoid the growth putting pressure on the retention walls?
In my climate at least I don’t worry about Japanese maples roots messing up foundations. If you are in the Pacific Northwest where they grow larger I might be more concerned.
My 3 car garage is at the back of the yard – over 150-200 ft. I like to put a Coral Bark Japanese Maple
in front of the garage in the yard . Thoughts
I would not be concerned about putting any Japanese maple too close to a building as long as it won’t grow into it or walkways.
I didn’t realize that the best distance to put a tree is about 20 feet away from the house. My parents have four trees in their backyard. Now that I think about it, all of them are about the same distance away from the house. I thought it was coincidence, but perhaps they planted there to have the optimal amounts of shade. It is really nice to be able to sit on the deck in the summer evenings and not have to worry about the sun.
LeAnn Flynn says
I have a neighbor who planted several pine trees between our homes. Some are only at most ten feet from our home. I am concerned about our foundation. Is my concern valid?
Tina Carter says
I wrote in about a pin oak however it’s not. I revealed to make sure and it turns out to be a willow oak. It has long slender leaves. Is it too close to the slab at 15 – 20 feet? Thank you so much for your advise in advance.
Just moved to a home that has a pin oak 20 feet from the back corner of the house. It’s at least 15 – 20 ft tall. I really like it but I’m worried about the root system getting under our foundation. Should we cut it down or try to transplant? Or. .. leave it where it is?
Dale Miller says
I purchased a water oak tree that I thought was a live oak tree and planted it about six and a half foot from the foundation of my house. My question is will there be a problem with the root system concerning possible damage to the foundation and will I need to put in a root barrier to prevent any problems. The tree is currently about 6 foot tall and has a trunk of a little over 1 inch so regardless of what I need to do I still should have time to make a decision. I would just like to get your thoughts on what I should do so that I won’t be digging any unnecessary trenches if I am okay with my current situation. I didn’t realize what the potential growth of this tree was and don’t want to take any chances
Water oaks are big shade trees. Six and half feet away from your house is closer then I would plant any tree that gets 60 feet wide.
I would not count on any root barrier keeping back a large shade tree’s roots.
If it was me, I would move the tree.
I am considering purchasing a home built in the 60’s. This beautiful home has very mature sycamore trees (2) planted 5 feet away from the front door. It looks beautiful but concerned about the proximity. How much of a problem is this type of tree? Do you suspect if it was going to do damage it would already be present?
Hi, we have a clump of at least 3 amelanchier lamarkii planted about 2 feet from the house by the builders. It is on the side and not near any Windows. Will it affect the structure of the house?
I seriously doubt it. It will grow into the house but this is a pretty small tree/bush. If it is small and you can move them out to at least say 5 feet it will give them and your house a little more room to breath and develop a better form.
Marje Bailey says
We have a beautiful liquid Amber that is now diseased and the roots are encroaching the walkway. It’s a beautiful tree, but sadly, it is coming out tomorrow. What would you suggest as a replacement. We live in Irvine, CA. (Small yard, but it provided great shade)
Given your wildly different climate then mine here is Chicago, I would be hesitant to make any recommendations as you have SO MANY more choices available to you then I am aware of. These sites may be helpful: http://www.fuf.net/resources-reference/urban-tree-species-directory/
It should be a prosecutable offense for anyone to plant or to foster a silver maple planted closer than 100 feet from anyone else’s property. The trunk of my neighbor’s 50 year old, ~65ft. tree, planted ON the property line by the original owner, has trespassed into my yard, and its above-ground roots have traveled 20 feet into my small yard in a semi-circle around the trunk, stealing all my topsoil and water as it continues its relentless intrusion. The underground roots which extend even further have made growing most anything not in a large planter impossible (Carex pensylvanica, the exception). Oh, and, its roots poison Kentucky Blue, so you can forget about that choice of turf. All of its branches arch toward the north, over my yard, for no good reason. Needless to say, its autumn leaves and spring helicopter seeds all fall into my yard, adding insult to injury. Maples are weeds, nothing more.
Don’t forget Weeping Willows!
Michael Viye says
We have 2 Silver Maples that were planted by our landscaper!! about 14 years ago. They are the Clump Variety of Silver Maples and have grown very high (15 feet). The big problem that has been now finally been brought to our attention (we are not good gardeners and lived in middle of big city with no experience) is that now people tell us our foundation of our house (our house was built in 1997) is at big risk. The trees are only 4-5 feet away from the front of our house. They are right in front of our windows (dining room, den and 2 rooms on second floor). They provide beautiful shade and colors in the fall, but now we’re very worried about our house foundation, pipes, etc. Any advice other than cutting them down ASAP? Since they are clump variety, and we haven’t had any issues at all with our house (19 years old house), and they are doing well, what do you think? Would pruning them really well help slow down any root problems with our home? Thanks so much to any of you that can help with this!!
They should come out. The sooner the easier and cheaper.
I just planted Tulip Poplar 20 feet away, I live on 3 acres however, as I said I put them 20 feet away. I understand the limbs do come off at times. Are these large trees exceptions? What is a minimum distance for TP and not lose the benifits of a shade tree. I planted these because I’m a beekeeper, for shade to keep the Florida sun from jacking my electric bill up running the AC and because, if planted correctly the seem to get fabulous reviews from people who own them.
We just purchased two Royal Red Maple Trees and I was wondering how far away from the house should we plant them so they will shad the house.
Sheila Hoppes says
I see evergreens arborvitae planted close to banks etc. can I plant these close to my house. Will they harm the foundation ?
I would say they must be OK in general as it is done a lot. Select ones that don’t get too big and you should be OK assuming you give them a bit of room, you don’t want them growing into your house as this can damage you walls with excessive moisture, lack of air flow to dry, etc.
Wendy Fjelstad says
Another question regarding how close to plant a tree to a house foundation. We’ve got an Amelanchier canadensis (Shadblow Serviceberry) planted 11 feet from the house and a Blackhaw Viburnum planted 5 feet from the house. Are these reasonably safe distances from our foundation for these trees? Thank you.
They are probably ok, although the Blackhaw may grow into the house.
Wendy Fjelstad says
Question: Does your advice to avoid planting Black Locust close to a home also apply to Honey Locust?
Background: We live in southern WI and have a Skyline Thornless Honey Locust (also podless) planted 18 ft from our house foundation. It was planted summer 1998 and has grown to about 50 ft. It sends up many new shoots from the roots all over our yard and a couple of large roots bulge above the ground surface near the trunk. End of last summer (2014) we had the tree professional trimmed and unfortunately about 50% of the branches were taken. From my reading on the topic of tree pruning I’d say the tree was “lion tailed”. We’ve had several tree specialists look at the tree since then and they all agree the tree will probably recover since Honey Locust is a vigorous grower. However one specialist said the stress caused by the heavy pruning could cause the tree to revert back to making pods, something he has seen happen. Besides the unhappy possibility of this tree producing pods, we’ve begun to be concerned about the roots creating a problem with our concrete basement foundation. Given the potential for these unwanted problems, I’m not opposed to removing the tree and starting fresh with a smaller tree. Thank you. Your blog is so informative.
I sure hope not as I myself planted a Skyline honey locust 18 feet from my house!
I would not be too concerned about the pods. I would be concerned if the thorns came back! If it starts producing pods for a few years it’s not that bad (my neighbor has one which drops pods in my side yard and they are easy to clean up.)
Squirrel Power says
Is 9 feet too close from our foundation for a Skyline honey locust? The tree is already taller than the roof above the second floor. The tree is nicely centered between our house and garage which are 18 feet apart. Exactly how many feet away should a Skyline honey locust be to prevent foundation damage?
Probably, but maybe not. It depends upon the soil type, how the dry the soil around the foundation is kept which is a function of drainage, cover from rain, etc. As well as specifics about the foundation. Without looking at the specific of the site and house it is impossible to say for sure.
If you put a gun to my head and asked for an answer, I would say it is too close.
Squirrel Power says
If it will make you say it is not too close, I will stop putting that gun to your head. I’m sorry I did that in the first place. So inconsiderate of me.
The ground slopes towards the building. Water pools inside the crawlspace which is about 3 feet below ground. How stupid am I to not fix that problem?
I would say your foundation should be your first concern. Fixing drainage issues is an issue I have to address myself this year.