Gardening: Prime time to plant trees – but beware the dangers with roots

The apple tree I grew from a pip when was a child - a little too close to the house ...
The apple tree I grew from a pip when was a child - a little too close to the house ...

It’s the prime time of the year for new gardeners to plant trees and shrubs – but do you know some root systems can damage your home?

Inexperienced gardeners often pick up the first thing that catches their eye with little regard to its eventual height or demands on a garden.

Love your garden and your home - plant trees the right distance from buildings.

Love your garden and your home - plant trees the right distance from buildings.

The prime culprit is the Leylandii conifer, often seen towering over gardens, planted when they were tiny and often sold as ‘dwarf’ conifers by unscrupulous (or ignorant) sellers in the 1970s.

A basic rule of thumb to remember is that roots often extend further than the mature height of the tree, taking moisture from the soil. The distinction between shrubs and trees is also fuzzy – a large shrub is often bigger than a small tree. When in doubt, check the final height and spread.

The National House Building Council (NHBC) has shared top tips on planting new trees near your home.

If you garden on clay, new planting may cause it to shrink, while removing trees and shrubs may make it swell, so plant new trees away from your home. Find out the mature height and position it at least three-quarters of this distance from the house.

Livingstone daisies (Mesembryanthemum) - harden them off properly.

Livingstone daisies (Mesembryanthemum) - harden them off properly.

High water demand trees (such as elm, eucalyptus, oak, poplar, willow and some common cypress species) should be planted no closer than one-and-a-quarter times the mature height.

Climbers such as ivy and Virginia creeper hold on to house walls with aerial rootlets using twining tendrils or aerial roots which could damage loose mortar. Plant these at least three meters away from your home.*

Before cutting down or pruning a mature tree, check with your local authority to make sure that it is not protected by planning conditions, conservation area restrictions or a Tree Preservation Order.

Allow enough room for trunks and large roots to grow safely. Be careful if planting near drains or lightweight structures.

Ask your neighbour if planting a tree near their property is OK, especially if the mature plant will cut off their light or view. You could be liable for the cost of repair if the trees you plant cause damage to their home.

Regular pruning of fast growing, thirsty trees such as the Leyland cypress (Leylandii), will help to reduce the amount of water taken from the soil.

The level of soil around your home should be kept below the damp proof course Paths should be the same distance below the damp course, except where they have been designed to provide level access into the home. Air bricks, permanent ventilators or perpend vents should not be blocked.

*This I take issue with. Ivy, especially, has had a bad press over the years. As long as the mortar and brickwork is sound, there is evidence to suggest they can provide insulation to homes, as well as providing a wildlife habitat.

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If you’re seduced by ready-planted hanging baskets at the garden centre, harden them off and don’t put outside until after the last frosts at the end of May – same with trays of annuals and veg.

Cover emerging shoots of potatoes with soil. If the tubers are exposed to light, they turn green because of an increase in chlorophyll, which makes them have a high level of glycoalkaloids toxins.

In the veg garden, sow sowing quick-growing crops, such as salads, between longer-term residents, such as brassicas, while they’re establishing.

Mulching fruit crops will help them to retain moisture around the roots so you will use less water.

Take softwood cuttings of deciduous shrubs, including Forsythia, Fuchsia, Hydrangea macrophylla, Philadelphus and Spiraea – choose non-flowering stems.

Collect rainwater in barrels.

For roses, remove weeds and water during dry spells. Check roses for signs of black-spot, aphids and leaf-rolling sawfly damage, treat if required.

Trim winter flowering heathers with shears.

After flowering, dig up and divide Primulas.

Tall-growing plants such as Delphinium, Lupin and monkshood need a framework of canes and string around then to help prevent them been damaged by winds. Do this now so the supports become unobtrusive as the plants grow through them.

Give shrubs, trees, and borders a mulch of compost, to preserve water and smother any weed seedlings.

Keep nipping off the dead flower heads of late-flowering daffodils and let foliage die down naturally.


For more on these topics, plus cook what you grow, traditional recipes, North East information, environmental news and more, log on to (now smartphone friendly),, follow me on Twitter @MandyCanUDigIt or you can like me on Facebook at Mandycanudigit