Your landscaping may look great at a distance ... while secretly wreaking havoc on your home's foundation. Allowing pine tree roots to damage a foundation is a surefire way to cost yourself thousands in repairs.
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A member of the genus Pinus, pine trees are native to most of the Northern Hemisphere, which makes them easy to grow even for people living in cold climates. And yet some people hesitate to use pine trees because they worry that the roots of a pine planted near a house might cause damage to the foundation. Good news: that's unlikely to happen if your foundation is in good shape and your trees are planted far enough away.
It's uncommon for pine tree roots to damage a foundation because pine tree root systems largely grow down instead of expanding outward. A foundation will generally only be infiltrated by pine tree roots if it's already weakened or cracked and the tree is too close to the house.
Pine Tree Foundation Fears
Pines planted in yards offer a variety of foliage colors ranging from bluish-green to dark green. In addition, these trees come in different sizes, shapes and needle structures, and even the texture of needles in different species varies from fine to coarse. All that variety, plus the fact that pines can flourish in so many climates, make them a popular choice for home landscaping.
Although people often worry that the roots of a pine tree might cause the foundation of a house to crack, that is generally an unfounded concern because pine tree roots tend to grow down rather than spread out laterally across your yard. In addition, the root system of an evergreen generally will not grow into a foundation unless the foundation already has cracks and leaks, because the roots tend to grow where there is a balance of water and air.
How to Select Pines
Choosing the right pine tree for a foundation planting involves more than just considering the shape of the tree or the hue of the needles. Give consideration also to the mature height and spread of the evergreen and to how long the pine tree takes to reach that height.
Make sure there is enough room for the tree branches to spread. Also make sure the roots have enough room to grow without being confined to a small area by the foundation walls of the house or by a sidewalk, which would cause the roots to stop growing and lead to the eventual death of the tree.
Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris, USDA zones 2-8) and the Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra, zones 4-7) are often good choices for landscaping. Your local gardening center can also recommend pine species and cultivars that will work best in your region.
Pine Tree Planting Considerations
Because pine tree roots — like the roots of all plants — always need a balance of water and air to grow, it is never a good idea to plant them too close to a foundation just for the sake of the tree. That is because the first few feet of soil near a foundation are usually kept fairly dry by the overhang on the roof.
You can establish a natural root-free zone near the foundation by not watering or fertilizing that area. To give pine trees the best shot of flourishing without damaging your home, plant them 15 to 25 feet from the foundation.