In the United States, apple trees are one of the most popular fruit trees, and while they can be cultivated in most areas, many people are concerned that the roots may be invasive and cause harm to their property.
With that said, are the roots of an apple tree invasive, and are they safe to grow in your backyard?
Apple tree roots are neither invasive nor aggressive and lack the power to cause foundation damage or penetrate sewage systems. However, they are known to push up paving stones if grown into tight spaces. Understanding the apple tree’s root system is key to guiding its roots.
Apple tree roots may grow to be double the size of the canopy and compete for nutrients, water, and oxygen. Apple trees often have a few deep, vertical roots that grow straight down into the soil, also serve to anchor the tree, and as a result, understanding how the roots grow is vital.
So, how do apple tree roots grow?
How Do Apple Tree Roots Grow?
There are several reasons to cultivate apple trees, including the enjoyment of eating homegrown apples, the sense of pride that comes from cultivating your own, and so on. However, not everyone knows how they grow.
Appletree roots can reach up to three times the tree’s height and maybe around 25 feet long; however, dwarf apple trees are shorter than this, with roots that can spread up to 15 feet. One of an apple tree’s essential functions is stretching out and collecting water, oxygen, and nutrients from the soil.
A taproot forms when apple trees grow from seed, anchoring the fragile plant in the earth. After a few years, the embryonic taproot dies off, and the root structure transforms into a fibrous root system with just a few vertical, deep anchoring roots.
It develops a clump of fine roots with no discernible tap root. There are three different types of apple tree roots, and understanding the different types of apple tree roots helps discern the growth progress.
The Three Types of Apple Tree Roots
Appletree roots develop in a seasonally specific manner during the Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter seasons. The three roots of an apple tree are made up of a deep taproot and lateral fibrous roots accompanied by smaller feeder roots.
Apple trees often have a few vertical, deep roots that penetrate deep into the earth. Consequently, these deep roots can access the moisture reserves existing deep within the soil and support the tree during times of drought and nutrient shortage.
They also anchor the tree to the ground during extreme weather situations such as storms and Cetra. Under optimal soil and moisture circumstances, a full-sized standard rootstock may produce vertical roots up to 20 feet deep in three years.
Fibrous roots of apple trees develop radially and horizontally from deep roots, penetrating the earth in all directions away from the plant in quest of moisture and nutrients. They are often found within the top three feet of the soil, near the surface (1 meter).
Feeder roots sprout from the fibrous roots to take up water and nutrients from the soil at the surface, branching out four or more times to produce fans of mats of hundreds of fine, short, non-woody tips around 0.2-1mm in diameter and 1-2mm in length.
The bulk of the apple tree’s water, nutrient, and oxygen absorption come from these feeder roots.
Feeder roots emerge from the fibrous roots and often develop into the top few centimeters of soil.
Because apple tree feeder roots fight for water and nutrients with neighboring plants and turf, it is critical to mulch the base of young apple trees, conserve moisture, and prevent shallow-rooted turf and weeds from growing at the foot of the apple tree, taking nutrients from the feeder roots.
Grass and weeds that grow at the foot of new apple trees may hinder the apple tree’s growth when it is most needed in the first few years of root development.
How the Apple Tree Root System Functions
The taproot system is similar to that of the carrot, which is also a taproot, and the lateral fibrous roots stretch nearly twice as far as the canopy of the apple tree. However, favorable soil conditions regulate the spread, and fine feeder roots emerge from the lateral fibrous roots to take up nutrients from neighboring surfaces.
During harsh weather circumstances, such as drought, the taproot can access deep moisture stores to keep the tree alive. The rootstock of an apple tree determines how large the mature tree grows, how rapidly it sets fruits, and how slow or defined the root mass grows, with particular rootstock being more persuasive than others.
So, how do the roots perform during different seasons?
During Spring, there is rapid root development as both fibrous and feeder roots extend, absorbing water and nutrients to promote apple tree blossoming. Their growth stops once the budding process is accomplished.
The apple tree devotes all of its nutrition and energy to developing buds, leaves, and fruits. A freshly planted tree will not yield fruit for several years because it will devote all of its resources and energy to developing a solid root system.
During the summer, apple tree roots deliver water and nutrients to budding fruits; thus, roots do not grow. Furthermore, trees that do not have a well-established root system get stressed during this period.
Aside from the summer heat, the added weight of the apple strains the tree and its root system.
After the harvest, the apple tree goes into dormancy. Many feeder roots die as they anchor themselves down for the windy days to come. In contrast, lateral fibrous roots begin to sprout using the apple tree’s stored energy—root development in the fall aids in securing firm anchorage.
The fibrous roots that began to sprout after the harvest continue to grow until the soil temperature is warm enough, at which point the remainder of the apple tree goes dormant. Root development is gradual but consistent, and it lasts until the ground freezes.
The benefit of root growth in the winter is that it is not hampered by competition from other plants or turfgrass.
Can the Roots of an Apple Tree Grow to Cause Damage?
Apple trees do not have aggressive or invasive root systems that might cause structural damage to foundations or sewage pipes so that you can plant them near your house without fear of root damage.
However, planting directly over any underground plumbing or piping is never a brilliant idea – if that system ever needs repairing or replacing in the future, you risk having to dig up or remove the tree to get to it.
Planting nearby, on the other hand, is not a problem. Apples do not have a robust root system and will not damage pipes or plumbing if the piping is physically solid (no cracks, etc.).
Tree roots extend horizontally rather than vertically, and the majority are found in the top 12-16″ of soil. A 2-3-foot-deep planting hole is also far too deep for a miniature apple tree or any other sort of tree.
The planting hole should be relatively large – 2-3 times the width of the rootball – but no deeper than the existing rootball’s depth. A planting hole that is too deep causes the earth to settle and the tree to be planted too deeply.
In reality, growing apple trees approximately 6-8 feet from the house’s wall is occasionally a wise idea, especially on south-facing walls that are protected and relatively warm. Trellising the branches to rest flat against the wall in a fan form is known as ‘espalier’ fruit tree training.
Choosing the Best Site for Your Apple Tree
The most excellent approach to success is to plan ahead of time. Let’s talk about the location: Do you have a plan for where you’re going to place your new apple trees? By considering all variables of the planting location, you may avoid numerous future issues, such as cross-pollinating, checking the surrounds for sun and suitable soil, using your space carefully, and making room for future plants.
Is there a compatible pollinator variety? Cross-pollination by a different variety (such as Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, etc.) of the same type of tree (apples to apples) is critical to an apple tree’s fruiting performance.
In most situations, apple trees yield poorly or do not bear fruit due to a lack of a matching pollinator variety. Because insects and wind must transport pollen from flower to blossom across trees, apple trees and their pollen partners should be placed close together – within 50 feet of one another – to ensure proper cross-pollination.
Looking for Sun and Good Soil
Apple trees flourish in whole light and well-drained, productive soil conditions. During the growth season, full daylight means at least six to eight hours of sunshine.
Keep in mind that light is necessary for fruit production and quality and prevents fungal diseases when determining where to put your new apple trees.
The roots of an apple tree require good soil drainage to stay healthy, and strong roots are the foundation of a healthy tree. If you notice that your native soil is thick clay that holds water during rainy weather, you should relocate your apple tree.
Similarly, if your location has fast-draining, sandy soil, your apple tree may experience water-related stress (akin to drought conditions) and may require more regular watering.
We do not advocate planting apple trees on rocky or thick, pure-clay soils for optimal growth. If you cannot plant elsewhere, you might try improving the soil at your planting location before planting your apple trees.
Amending the soil is very dependent on your specific region; therefore, contacting your local county cooperative extension is an excellent first step. In general, you may add coir, such as our Coco-Fiber Growing Medium, to your apple tree’s planting hole to aid with water distribution or mix in one-third sphagnum/peat to the soil at planting time.
To avoid having to deal with your local soil, you may construct a bottomless raised bed (at least 12-inches deep and 3- to 4-feet wide) in which to plant your apple tree. You may also plant apple trees in containers, beginning with a large pot to support the present root system of each apple tree (with room to grow).
You may plant most new apple trees in a 5-gallon container to begin, and You can pot up container-grown apple trees into bigger containers as they mature. Take heart, even if your yard isn’t in the best possible position.
Apple trees are versatile and respond well to soil additions such as compost or fertilizers so that they may thrive even in nutritionally deficient soil. Just take note that you should avoid planting places with hefty soils and poor drainage.
Watch Out for the Surroundings
Apple trees may also be used as a landscape feature, so select a planting location with this in mind. Consider your new apple tree to be a full-grown tree, and examine everything:
- Are there any cables or other barriers in the way?
- Are there any cables, pipelines, or other lines and utilities that you should avoid burying?
- Is there a sidewalk or foundation within the mature spread of your apple tree?
- Could your apple tree, if fully grown, obstruct your view of anything you wish to see?
- Will surrounding trees obstruct or hinder sunlight from reaching your apple tree as it grows?
Even a year or two after planting, it can be not easy to transfer an apple tree effectively, so take the time to plant it correctly the first time.
Spacing Wisely Is Important
Growers frequently inquire about the appropriate planting distances for apple trees to keep them away from patios, sewage lines, water pipes, and other structures. Patios are usually not a concern since the soil underneath them is dry and compacted.
The roots will not be encouraged to develop into this region; therefore, it is best to plant at least 8 to 10 feet between these buildings and your apple trees. A sensible distance is someplace beyond the predicted maximum spread of your apple tree.
It is roughly equivalent to the mature height of the apple tree you intend to plant (for example, Dwarf, Semi-Dwarf, Standard). Recommendations for Space Between Trees and other buildings are provided below).
Because sewer and water lines are buried so deeply, you might not expect apple tree roots to be attracted to them and grow around them if the tree is planted too close. However, because sewer and water lines are wet, apple tree roots will be attracted to them and grow around them if the tree is planted too close.
You can avoid issues in the near or far future by planting apple trees far enough away from these objects.
Consider Space for the Next Plants
If you’re new to apple tree planting or planting apple trees in a new place, it’s best to start with just a few apple trees. Later on, especially after reaping the benefits of producing your apples for the first time, you may wish to extend your home orchard.
It’s a decent idea to plan ahead of time for extra apple trees and other fruit trees, as well as berry bushes and garden plants. In this manner, the future planting areas will be ready when you are, without interfering with your present apple trees.
Apple trees are friendly trees when provided the condition and ideal planting arrangements. Fortunately, after planting, they will not destroy everything in their way like invasive trees do; apple tree routes humbly try and find their way around things throughout the seasons, even during Fall.
So, the next time you get your hands on an apple tree and decide that you should attempt to grow one, do it! However, as explained, don’t try and grow it above any water pipes or drainage systems.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.