En EspaŅol

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?


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
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

Wednesday - March 11, 2009

Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: I need a tall tree with kind roots for a narrow space
Answered by: Jimmy Mills


We have a space in the yard where a building is within 3 to 6 feet of where we would like a tall tree. What tree could achieve two stories in height, while not messing with the foundation of the building? The tree could have a maximum radius of 8 to 9 feet in diameter. We're looking for "kind roots" and good height. Thanks,


Mr. Smarty Plants thinks that a tall tree is not in your future in that location if you are concerned about the foundation.

First we'll talk about tree roots in general, and then offer suggestions for some alternative shrubs that might fit nicely in the space you have.

This link to the Iowa State University Extension is a primer on tree roots in general. I will summarize four issues that are pertinent to your situation.

* The root systems of trees are made up of large, permanent roots (which mainly provide anchorage and transport), and many small, temporary feeder roots and root hairs. It is these small parts of the root system that are the primary water and nutrient absorbers.

* Most tree roots do not penetrate very deeply into the soil. Unless the topsoil is bare or unprotected, trees will concentrate most of their absorbing roots in the top 6 to 18 inches of soil, where water, nutrients, and oxygen can be found.

* Tree root systems cover more area than one might expect -- usually extending out in an irregular pattern 2 to 3 times larger than the crown area. (This could be up to 27 feet for the tree you described.)

* The drip line is the area where much of the water and nutrients are absorbed. This  area on the ground lies approximaely at the edge of the canopy.

Another consideration is the damage that tree roots can do by cracking foundations and sidewalks as they expand, or by causing subsidence as they absorb moisture from under the foundation.

Shrubs, because they lack the massive root systems of trees would present fewer problems in the space you are interested in.

Our Horticulturist suggests two cultivars of Yaupon Ilex vomitoria (yaupon)  that might fit into your landscape. One is Weeping Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria  'Pendula', and the other is Ilex vomitoria 'Will Fleming'.

'Pendula' ; This cultivar is evergreen with a moderate growth rate reaching up to 25' high and 10-12' wide. It can have red berries that persist through the fall into Spring. View pictures.

'Will Fleming' ; If your space is tight, this is the plant for you. It is a moderately growing evergreen reaching up to 12-15', but only 2' wide. (Shaped like an exclamation point.) Unlike 'Pendula', it doesn't produce berries. View pictures.

The down side of this is that neither of these cultivars is likely available at the the "big box stores", however they may be ordered through a good nursery in the Dallas area. If you go to the EXPLORE PLANTS menu on our web site, select "Suppliers", and type  Dallas, Texas in the approproate space, you will get a listing of businesses that sell native plants or seed and provide professional services. By perusing their web sites or using their contact information, you should be able to find these plants.

I was able to find Ilex vomitoria 'Pendula' listed under "trees" at Rohde's Nursery and Nature Store in Garland.



More Trees Questions

Planting spot for sycamore in Belle Mead NJ
April 19, 2010 - At school we all got a tree. It was a Buttonwood tree, which I know is REALLY big, but my grandma wants to plant it near other trees. Where should I put it? My dad won't let me plant it in the middle...
view the full question and answer

Arborvitae thinning in Bucks County, PA
April 09, 2010 - My arborvitae trees are about 11 ft. tall. I had them put in about 3 years ago. They were 8 to 10 ft. when planted. After the first year, I have noticed they are thinning to the point where you can se...
view the full question and answer

Edible forest garden for northern Minnesota
March 07, 2014 - I am planning an edible forest garden for northern Minnesota. Can you suggest a list of plants that are native to this area. We are in zone 3a or 3b. Thank you!
view the full question and answer

Red oak (Quercus shumardii or Q. buckleyi) for small yard.
December 13, 2007 - Hello, I want to plant a red oak but my yard is not large. I'm looking for a red oak that is medium size in width. The height is not so much of a concern. From what I've read, the Shumard is m...
view the full question and answer

Pinus taeda (Loblolly pines) for a property in Van Zandt County, Texas
March 17, 2015 - I want to initiate a stand of loblolly pine trees on our property in Van Zandt County in NE Texas. Assuming the ph factor is within range, how do I obtain seedings for this endeavor? Any other advic...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center