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Wednesday - March 18, 2009

From: Portland, OR
Region: Northwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Shade tree for Portland, OR
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Looking for shade tree for Portland, Oregon, with non-invasive root system. House will be 20 ft away, with basement.


We wish we knew how to explain to a tree that it should not invade foundations, buckle sidewalks or pop roots up in the garden, but that's just the way trees are. Most of their roots are within 6 to 12 inches from the soil surface, and they are relentless in their search for water, oxygen and nutrients. The following is an extract from a previous Mr. Smarty Plants question:

"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. 

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."

With that in mind, we are going to look at Recommended Species in our Native Plant Database, and find smaller trees that will result in less extensive roots but still give some nice shade to the area. Also be aware, as noted above, of the damage roots can do to sidewalks and drives in their area. These trees will all be native not only to North America but to Oregon. Native plants grown in their natural habitat will require less water, food and maintenance.


Juniperus scopulorum (Rocky Mountain juniper)

Pinus contorta (lodgepole pine)

Prunus virginiana (chokecherry)

Umbellularia californica (California laurel)

Juniperus scopulorum

Pinus contorta

Prunus virginiana

Umbellularia californica







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