Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
1 rating

Thursday - March 05, 2009

From: NYC, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Trees
Title: Distance from existing structures to plant a tree in New York
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I would like to plant a large maple or birch near my suburban home. How far away from my home, garage, or any buildings should the seed be planted?

ANSWER:

Not knowing which species of each tree you were planting, we first found those that were native to New York. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we always recommend the use of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown. The maples native to New York are Acer rubrum (red maple), Acer saccharinum (silver maple) and Acer saccharum (sugar maple). Birches native to New York are Betula lenta (sweet birch) and Betula populifolia (gray birch). These are probably not the only species of either tree that are native to New York, but give us information to work with in helping you with your decision. They should all have enough similarities to permit generalizing about how these trees would perform in an urban landscape, and how far from structures either should be planted. 

To begin with Acer rubrum (red maple), this tree grows 40 to 60 feet in cultivation, has a narrow or rounded compact crown, prefers slightly acid, moist soil, is tolerant of ozone and slightly tolerant of sulfur dioxide, but not particularly urban tolerant. Red maple has moderate to rapid growth, but can be somewhat weak-wooded and may suffer storm damage. Roots can raise sidewalks, but have a less aggressive root system; surface roots beneath canopy can make mowing difficult. This USDA Forest Service article goes into more detail. Grafting is no longer done on this tree, as incompatibility was causing grafted trees to break apart. Seeds should be from species native to the area. 

Betula populifolia (gray birch) is a narrow, columnar single or multi-trunked tree, 35 to 50 feet, grows rapidly but short-lived. Branches droop as the tree grows but need little pruning to develop a strong structure. Grows easily in almost any soil and level of moisture, but needs a slightly acid soil. Propagation is by seed or cuttings. Again, the USDA Forest Service has comprehensive facts on this tree.

As to the exact distance either should be planted from foundations or sidewalks, that becomes a matter of personal judgment. Soil subsidence around foundations is more often the result of the soil becoming too dry. It is true that tree roots will range out from their trunk as much as twice the diameter of the tree crown in search of moisture but this is usually not a prime factor in foundation damage.  The maple is notorious for surface roots, and will certainly buckle sidewalks and driveways over time.

In general terms regarding the planting of trees near structures, the ground area at the outside edge of the canopy, referred to as the dripline, is especially important. The tree obtains most of its surface water here, and conducts an important exchange of air and other gases. The most critical area lies within 6 to 10 feet of the trunk. Paving should be kept out of the dripline and no closer than 15 feet from the tree trunk.


Acer rubrum

Acer rubrum

Betula populifolia

Betula populifolia

 

 

 

 


 

More Trees Questions

Eastern red cedar as tall privacy hedge for North Texas
February 28, 2006 - I live in Northern Texas, outside of Dallas, and I need a very, very tall hedge to hide the view of the neighbors car lot from our second floor. We see everything beyond his fence and it drastically ...
view the full question and answer

Causes of death to Papershell pinion pine (Pinus remota)?
December 03, 2015 - Good afternoon. I did my best to review the site and have not found a comparable question - apologies if I have missed something. I own property equidistant between Leakey and Campwood off of HWY 33...
view the full question and answer

Weird growth on oaks in Middleburg FL
February 05, 2011 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants; I have this plant/fungus that grows on my trees here in northeast Florida & nobody has been able to identify it for me. It looks like a clump of pine needles growing on the ba...
view the full question and answer

Flowers under pine trees from Elkhart Indiana
May 02, 2013 - I have a number of pine trees at the back of my lot and would like to plant flowers under the tree. What can I plant?
view the full question and answer

Over-trimmed junipers in Shell Beach CA
May 16, 2010 - Help! My husband decided to "trim" the juniper bushes that are in front of our house that create a great private front yard. I guess he cut back into the dead wood and now nothing is regrowing. It'...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.