En EspaŅol
Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Mr. Smarty Plants - Distance from existing structures to plant a tree in New York

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.

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

Live oak roots and house foundation in Austin
March 01, 2009 - Our builder left a live oak on our lot that is 7' from our foundation. The tree is now around 18' tall with a 20" circumference. Will this tree eventually cause damage to our foundation and is th...
view the full question and answer

Transplanting Colorado blue spruce in Indiana
August 16, 2005 - I live in Indiana. I have a Colorado blue spruce that I would like to transplant to a different part of my yard. What is the best time of year to transplant it? It is only about two foot tall.
view the full question and answer

Do all tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera) flower?
June 02, 2009 - Do all tulip trees flower? We planted a baby one about 5 years ago and its grown considerably however it has never flowered. Is that normal? Thank you!
view the full question and answer

Live oak trees buzzing in Taylor TX
October 20, 2012 - Is it possible for live oak trees to make a buzzing sound? We have heard this sound under our live oak and were worried it was bees but we don't seem to see any. I also heard the buzzing under my mot...
view the full question and answer

Average lifespan of Pinchot's Juniper from Golden CO
August 23, 2011 - What is the average lifespan of Juniperus coahuilensis (syn. Juniperus texensis) trees?
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center