Pine Tree Roots: How Far They Spread and How To Remove Them


Pine trees are an unrivaled landscape classic, whether in the great wild or sweet old suburbia. With benefits ranging from privacy to sweet fragrances, what’s not to love about them? Well, the roots apparently.

Pine tree roots tend to grow vertically down, but will spread secondary roots horizontally as far as the branches of the tree extend. There are variations in the depth of these lateral roots, but they are usually longer the closer they are to the surface. The main roots grow downwards.

The following article is an exploration of pine tree roots, as we look at some of their basic characteristics and how they can impact your landscaping. We also look at how they can affect buildings before we go over the best ways of removing a pine tree from your property. Let’s get right to it!

Do Pine Trees Have Shallow Or Deep Roots?

Despite how common pine trees are, many people are still unfamiliar with the characteristics and nature of their root systems.

Pine trees have a very deep root network that corresponds to the size of the tree. It is considered a taproot style of root system which starts with primary roots delving deeper and deeper into the earth to find water. These deep roots make the standing tree extremely sturdy.

Let’s start with the characteristic in question:

Pine Root Depth

Pine trees make use of a taproot system and, therefore, are capable of going very deep into the ground. Pine root depth can range from 3 feet to more than 75 feet depending on the size of the tree, inherent root structure (varies from species to species), climate, and spacing with other trees.

Just as you would expect, dwarf pines (4-10 feet in height) have shallower roots than fully matured pines (50-100+ feet in height). It usually takes 25-30 years for a pine tree to reach full maturity and the 50+ foot root depth that comes with it.

Much like other taproot plants, pine trees start by developing primary roots, which tend to follow a vertical trajectory into the ground in pursuit of water. When a pine tree is still a seedling, these roots are fine and soft.

As the tree grows and develops further, the primary roots coarsen up and begin sprouting secondary (or lateral) roots that may go in various directions, subject to the availability of water and other soil conditions. The primary root will continue growing downwards as long as the tree lives.

Soil Conditions Affect Root Depth For Pine Trees

Soil conditions and moisture availability are the biggest influences on root depth. Generally speaking, the higher the soil’s moisture and oxygen content, the deeper a pine tree’s roots can go. 

Oftentimes, pine trees are forced to engage in balancing acts by different soil types. Clay soils, for instance, are great at retaining moisture, but their closely packed particles do not leave a lot of room for oxygen. Sandy soils, on the other hand, have lots of air spaces but they lose moisture content relatively quickly.

Research has revealed that pine roots develop more efficiently in loamy or sandy soils with average particle sizes of 0.002-0.02mm. These soils tend to dry up fast, which prompts root systems to go deeper in search of water.

Are Pine Tree Roots Able To Be Simply Cut?

There are some major issues with cutting pine tree roots that could create potential hazards in the future. What are the two main issues when cutting these roots?

Cutting pine tree roots because they are becoming a hazard or a nuisance can bring some other problems that can be just as troublesome. Severing roots nearer than 8 to 10 feet from the base can bring add risk of falling to to wind and the lack of water and nutrient collection can lead to rot.

When cutting exposed or dug up roots, it is best to stay over 10 feet away from the trunk of the tree. If there are structures or walks being affected by these roots, it may be a better option to take down the entire tree or build things like walkways over the area with decking.

Are Pine Tree Roots Bad For Foundations?

Your house’s foundations are particularly vulnerable to tree root damage.

Pine tree roots are not as bad for house foundations due to the vertical nature of their root systems. After water, tree roots in general are big problems. The horizontal pine tree roots should still be taken into account even if there are other tree types that pose bigger issues.

The most harmful culprits are trees with shallow roots that tend to grow horizontally. Hardwoods like oaks and elms are some of the worst trees to plant next to buildings, and you can expect serious foundation damage if you do so. 

Over time, these roots will continue exerting pressure on your foundation until it (and possibly your walls) starts cracking. Shallow-rooted trees also require a lot more water than their deep-rooted counterparts.

This unquenchable thirst causes such trees to drastically drain the surrounding soil. This drainage can lead to serious soil shifts, which is bad news for any nearby foundations.

Pine tree roots, on the other hand, tend to grow vertically, which is a good thing for concerned homeowners. Pine trees exert very minimal pressure on foundations, if at all. Additionally, pine trees are not as aggressively thirsty as hardwoods, which means they will not drain the soil around your house.

If you have any concerns, there are some measures you can take to minimize a pine tree’s impact on your foundation.

Short of cutting the tree down entirely, you can prune the leaves. More leaves result in higher water demand, which means a greater chance of soil drainage. Therefore, pruning will help save your foundation.

You can also try to plant trees further away from buildings just to be on the safe side. Modern technologies such as subterranean imaging are also a great help in identifying the extent of a tree’s root depth.

If you would like to see more great articles about projects around your house, see my other articles…

How Far Should A Pine Tree Be From A House?

It is always a good idea to plant trees as far away from a house as possible. Aesthetics should always be a secondary consideration when a house foundation is at stake. Pine tree roots though vertical in nature, if placed close enough to a structure could pose problems as it grows.

As a general rule, pine trees and all other variations should be planted at a distance that is at least half of their anticipated height. Therefore, a tree that could grow to be 100 feet tall should be at least 50 feet away from a building’s foundation.

We recommend that you follow the same rule for all trees, and this includes pine trees. Pines can reach 100+ feet in height and the spread of secondary roots in a mature specimen can do harm horizontally. However, thanks to their deep root systems, you might get away with having a pine tree as close as 20 feet from your house.

To be clear, many people have trees near their house and many of them are pine trees. The fact that some get away with it doesn’t mean the rule still does not apply. You are taking a big risk locating any tree too close to your home and pine trees with their unique root systems are no exception.

Best Pine Tree Removal Procedure

If you have a pine tree that is too close for comfort, removal may be your only option. If you are not comfortable with this process, be safe and contact a tree cutting service. Just be ready. There can be a sticker shock involved with this type of service.

Luckily, pine trees are pretty easy to bring down, which is one of the reasons behind their popularity in the timber industry. 

For a DIY removal, here are some of the tools you will need with Amazon links:

Cutting A Pine Tree

The first step is to cut the tree. Using a chainsaw, remove any thick lower branches first before felling the tree entirely. Taking off these larger lower limbs accomplishes two things. It give you greater access to the trunk of the tree and it takes some weight off of the tree itself.

Many professional and DIYers will also attempt to take the top of the tree off if it is accessible. This is not possible with very tall pines, and many of these trees can reach impressive heights. Any amount of weight and girth that can be removed makes the process more safe and manageable.

Next, you must decide where you want the tree to fall before taking the chainsaw to the trunk. You should also plot your escape route for when the tree falls. Additionally, scan the area around the tree for any items, animals, or people that could be in harm’s way.

To fell the tree, hold the chainsaw at a 70-degree angle against the trunk (on the side facing the fall direction) and cut downwards until you reach about a quarter into the trunk’s diameter. You must then make a second horizontal cut on the same side. This second cut must meet the end of the first cut, which creates a notch.

Next comes the felling cut. This cut is also horizontal but on the opposite side of the trunk. It must also be slightly above the second cut. Do not cut through to the notch. Leave about half an inch to create a hinge that will buy you enough time to escape as the tree falls.

Severing Pine Roots

Once the tree is felled, and for according to best practices, you must work on severing the tree’s roots from the stump. You do this by clearing the area around the tree’s base and digging up topsoil until the main roots come into view. These roots must be cut using a chainsaw or an ax. You can ignore the minor roots as they will die off with time.

Pine Tree Stump Removal

After the main roots are cut, you will be faced with a decision regarding the stump: keep or remove?

While some people may opt to keep a stump, you must be warned of the risks of doing so. Stumps may attract insects such as termites, which is always bad news. Also, if the tree was diseased, the stump may still harbor the infection, which could affect other parts of your garden.

Removing a stump can be done using a stump grinder, chemicals, or by letting it rot with time. The grinder is by far the quickest approach.

Lastly, you will have to treat the remaining soil to make it suitable for future plant life. You can use lime to help regulate pH levels and boost soil fertility.

The Final Touches On Pine Tree Roots And Their Depth…

Pine trees are not on the top of the list for trees with root systems that can do damage to a home’s foundation. Trees and their root systems of all types are a concern however, and should be dealt with before they become an issue.

Cutting pine roots that look to be potential hazards could be a solution, but you run the risk of damaging the tree only to have it fall later. Tall dead pine trees with their slender trunks pose a risk of falling onto structures and causing major damage.

Pine tree root systems are long, but reach very deep into the earth. Other trees have more spread out systems rather than deep taproots.

To learn more about taking care of your property, see some of my articles here…

References

https://homeaffluence.com/pine-tree-root-systems/#Roots_of_Pine_trees

https://www.vernonimeltreeservice.com/blog/5-tips-for-diy-pine-tree-removal/

Mathew Booe

Mathew has worked in landscaping professionally for over 10 years. He is a grandpa and frequently interviews other experienced landscapers and lawn care experts who are also grandpas for these articles.

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