Rooting Out the Problem – Trees and Plants That Cause Plumbing Problems

At first glance, that beautiful tree or elegant shrub planted in your yard may appear innocent, but it could secretly be waging an underground war on your home’s plumbing system or structure. Over the years, many of the trees and shrubs that are popular choices for planting in or around homes grow roots which burrow into the cracks of a house’s structure or plumbing system. When this happens, the roots can damage the house’s existing structure and the pipes leading into or out of the house.

Not all trees and shrubs have roots that are likely to cause problems with your home’s structure, sewer system or plumbing. However, some varieties are notorious for having roots that cause these types of problems. Knowing what trees and shrubs can cause plumbing and structure damage can help you avoid making a costly mistake.

The Root of the Problem – Why Trees and Shrubs Cause Plumbing and Structure Damage

Trees and shrubs don’t just cause plumbing and structure damage without a reason. They need either nutrients or more room to grow. Some varieties require large amounts of moisture and water to survive. When these plants don’t have access to enough water, they don’t have the ability or resources to grow unless they go in search of a water supply that will provide them with the nutrients and water they need. The closest water supply is usually the water in a home’s sewer system or pipes, and most pipes aren’t strong enough to prevent roots from penetrating the pipe’s surface.

A tree or shrub needs plenty of room to grow not only upward but also outward. Many homeowners don’t consider this when they make their landscaping design; however, the distance for a tree’s maximum height is the same as the distance you should leave around the tree for the root system to grow. This space needs to be unobstructed, or the roots will grow around and into whatever is in the way, including pipes, sewer systems or housing foundations.

The Root of the Problem – Types of Trees Known to Cause Plumbing Damage

Willow Trees

Willows are a group of beautiful, large trees that come in a number of varieties ranging from black willows to weeping willows. Although you will see willows growing near rivers and streams, you’ll also find them in nurseries. While they may be tempting to plant, they can cause major structural and plumbing damage to a home. The willow’s natural habitat is one that is moist and rich in nutrients. When you plant this type of tree in a home’s yard, it instinctively tries to get nutrients wherever it can find them because most yards don’t have soil capable of providing enough oxygen or hydrogen for the tree to survive.

Magnolia Trees

Anyone familiar with gardening and landscaping knows about the fragrance of magnolia blossoms. What people are not familiar with is the fact that magnolia trees have roots which often cause plumbing and structural damage to a home. All 80 magnolia varieties have roots that are very large and rope-like in appearance and structure.

Magnolia tree roots tend to grow along the Earth’s surface instead of growing deep into the ground. The combination of the flexibility from the rope-like roots and the shallow surface growth makes it easy for these trees to damage the surrounding home’s structure and plumbing system. The pliable roots will find cracks and leaks and work their way into the pipes as they seek the closest water source.

Poplar Trees

Poplar trees are popular choices for homeowners because their huge canopies can provide cool, shaded areas. Unfortunately, all 35 varieties have extremely invasive root systems that grow rapidly near the surface, which makes them bad choices for planting near homes. Even if you plant a poplar tree well away from a home, it can still cause significant damage because the root system can grow two to three times the height of the tree. The average height for a poplar tree is between 80 to 150 feet, which means the roots can grow anywhere from 160 to 450 feet out from the base of the tree. This excessive root growth and the necessary distance between the tree and structures contribute to the reasons why many homeowners associations, or HOAs, ban the planting of poplar trees within their communities.

Birch Trees

Homeowners looking to plant a huge, elegant tree tend to gravitate toward one of the 60 different types of birch trees. This species can grow anywhere from 40 to 50 feet into the air. However, this massive height contributes to the problems these trees can cause. A birch’s root system will grow anywhere from two to three times the maximum height of the tree.

The large area required for the root system, which rapidly grows in a flat fashion, provides a perfect situation for problems to arise with a home’s plumbing or sewer system. Without the right amount of space, the roots will make a home in the plumbing system’s weakest points. Once the roots find their way into the pipes, they will continue to grow outward, despite their location inside the pipe. This can cause blockages and damage the pipe’s casing.

Citrus Trees – Lemon, Mango, Orange and Grapefruit

While citrus trees are the source of many wonderful tasting fruits, they can also be the source of extreme damage to a home’s plumbing and sewer system. For this reason, many HOAs ban residents from planting citrus trees. These fruit trees require a large amount of oxygen, moisture, sunlight and nutrients to grow properly, and a location near a home or building rarely provides citrus trees with all the things they need. When the roots find their way into the piping, they can grow and expand, causing damage and problems with the surrounding pipes and structure.

Oak Trees

Some of the world’s largest and sturdiest trees come from the oak tree species. Oaks take dozens of years to reach maturity. Despite the slow-growing root system, an oak tree can quietly be wreaking havoc on a home’s structure and plumbing system. An oak tree’s root system contains a main root known as the taproot. The taproot grows straight down into the ground and provides nutrients and moisture to the tree as it grows.

As the tree matures, supplemental roots will grow laterally from the tree. These roots are the ones that cause problems to sewer and plumbing systems. They can often grow up to 100 yards out from the base of the oak tree. These roots will move and work their way into cracks within a plumbing system and continue to spread, causing damage and blockages to the sewer and plumbing lines.

The Root of the Problem – Shrubs and Other Plant Life That Cause Plumbing Damage

Boxwood Shrubs

Landscapers and homeowners frequently use one of the 80 different types of boxwood shrubs around a home or yard for aesthetic value. While the boxwood shrub does bring a bit of texture and color to a yard’s landscaping, it is the close proximity to the home and its large, shallow root structure that cause potential problems with a home’s plumbing system.

A boxwood’s prime location in a yard is right along a home’s foundation, where cracks and leaks in the structure and piping often occur. As the boxwood’s root system grows over the years, it will move outward and eventually find its way to the weak points in the plumbing or foundation. Once the roots find weak points, they will burrow into them, causing extensive damage as the roots continue to grow away from the center of the shrub.

Holly Bushes and Shrubs

Homeowners usually plant holly bushes and shrubs, often called foundation plants, along a home’s foundation. The close proximity to the home’s plumbing system and structure can cause massive damage if the plants are not receiving the right amount of water and nutrients. The location near the home may prevent these plants from getting the nutrients and moisture they need. This lack of nutrition and moisture causes the roots to branch out. The roots will find a way inside, either via a crack or through a weak pipe joint. Once inside the system, the roots will continue to grow and move toward the water, causing extensive damage to the piping and sewer systems. The roots can cause new plants to grow right inside the plumbing systems! When this happens, the plants can block the pipes or cause extensive damage.

Ivy Plants

Ground plants, like ivy, can cover gaps in landscaping and are typically planted close to buildings and homes. Even though these beautiful, leafy green plants make great ground coverings, they are extremely dangerous to a home’s plumbing or sewer system. A characteristic of the ivy plant is its ability to grow and climb at alarming rates. It is estimated that ivy, when left uncontrolled or pruned, can grow to three times its average size in as little as four month’s time.

While this plant grows on the walls, it will eventually find its way into any crack or crevice, whether its one on a home’s foundation or in the plumbing system. Once the ivy is inside the pipes, it will continue to grow at alarming rates and cause blockages, damage to the surrounding pipes and slow drainage.

Despite its beautiful characteristics, ivy plants are one of the most commonly banned plants by HOAs due to their ability to grow quickly. Uncontrolled plants can become invasive in a small amount of time. For example, ivy plants from one neighbor’s yard can quickly invade a neighbor’s property in one growing season.

Getting to the Root of the Problem – Ways to Prevent Plumbing Problems Caused by Tree Roots

Any time you plant a tree, shrub or other plant with a complex root system near your home, you are taking a chance. Doing the proper measuring and research before planting these types of trees, bushes or shrubs can help you avoid costly plumbing and sewer problems.

Research and proper planning should include the following things:

  • Measure the plant’s distance from the home to ensure that proper growth of the root system is possible without the roots getting in the way of pipes or a house’s foundation.
  • Know where all the sewer systems and pipes are in the yard and leave enough space for trees and plants to grow.
  • Make sure the soil and location for the trees and plants can provide enough water, nutrients and sunlight to prevent the roots from going in search of these necessary items.
  • Ensure all the pipes, sewer systems and home foundations do not have leaks, cracks or weak joints where roots can find their way in and grow.

Branching Out on Your Own – What to Take Away From These Problems

All trees, shrubs and plants can essentially cause problems to a home’s foundation, structure or plumbing system. However, certain types of trees, shrubs and bushes, like the ones listed above, are more likely to cause damage because of their flexible, shallow or large root systems. To prevent any potential sewer, plumbing or foundation problems, avoid placing these trees in your yard. If you do plant them, measure to ensure the root system has adequate room to grow.

If you happen to have one of the aforementioned trees or plants in your yard and it is near your home, consider removing it as soon as possible. You can replace the missing item with one that will be less likely to destroy your home’s pipes or structures. Following these guidelines will help you avoid having to face expensive plumbing or home foundation problems in the future.

Images:

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/suewaters/2957256682/sizes/m/in/photostream/
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/grenadier32/616946330/sizes/m/in/photostream/
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/elleyo/5696710844/sizes/m/in/photostream/
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/25258702@N04/3627213398/sizes/m/in/photostream/
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/rkramer62/4012903896/sizes/m/in/photostream/
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/pat_ossa/5536703852/sizes/m/in/photostream/
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/livenature/294927196/sizes/m/in/photostream/
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregslandscaping/5102124103/sizes/m/in/photostream/
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/4219636629/sizes/l/in/photostream/
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/xtinamilan/3043738081/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Sources:

  • http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-617/426-617.html
  • http://www.treeboss.net/roots-in-sewer-lines.htm
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  • http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/470098/poplar
  • http://www.birch-tree.com/index.html
  • http://www.ehow.com/about_6662827_root-system-lemon-tree.html
  • http://www.richmondhill-ga.gov/parks/EducationalInformation/OakTreeCare/tabid/261/Default.aspx
  • http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-603/426-603.html
  • http://www.garden.org/plantguide/?q=show&id=2095
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