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Tree roots with reference to drains

Hi, at my local church we've just have to take down 5 huge 70 year old poplars because they have destroyed the drains.  Now we want to replace them with small trees but finding it difficult to find a book that describes dimensions of the root balls.  Can anybody recomment such a book?  Just don't want to repeat the previous mistake.



  • WelshonionWelshonion Posts: 3,114

    The root ball is said to spread to the same circumference as the spread of the branches. 

    Poplar and willow are notorious for having roots that go in the drains.  Holly is lovely and stays neat.  Yew is of course traditional in churchyards.

  • Thank you Welshonion - Holly is definitely a possibility I hadn't considered. I fancy growing trees favourable to birds such as Rowan but am unsure as to root spread. Same with Silver Birch which is indigenous to this area.   Conifers mostly have very small root balls but cut out a lot of light.  There must be a reference book somewhere - even if its for builders!

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 60,433

    Rowan will be fine, their roots don't spread far and don't seem to actively seek drains like willow and poplar do.  

    Have a look at Crataegus x prunifolia - the ornamental hawthorn - spring blossom, wonderful autumn leaf colour and berries.  

    Also  consider whitebeam - a tree that looks like a tree, but not too big, with a fairly shallow root system and again blossom and autumn fruits.  

    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • I would go for shrubs rather than trees. There are lots of beautiful shrubs out there, more so than trees. They tend not to have problem roots. Wirral is quite mild so you have a lot to choose from, I would go for shrubs that flower or are colored at different times of the year.

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 60,433

    I've just driven along a tree-lined street in a relatively modern development (1960/70s)  there's quite a variety of smallish  trees planted in the area, and I presume research has been done to choose trees whose roots won't invade the drains.  It might be a good idea to look in a similar area near you. 

    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • Jim MacdJim Macd Posts: 750

    Hi Angela, Having taken out 22 conifers from my garden I can't stress enough how far their roots spread, its way, way further than their canopy, unlike broadleaf trees where as said, the rule of thumb is as far as the canopy. Rowans and Birch would be ideal as you say. Birch are very good for wildlife and don't cast deep shade. Of course the traditional tree is Yew, I don't know about the root spread of Yew though, but they are good trees for wildlife. The trees in our cemetry are mainly Rowan, Cherry, Service tree, Acer, and holly.

  • WaysideWayside Posts: 773

    I'd have re-routed the drains.

    Isn't that a fallacy about the root system being a mirror of the crown?

    Every churchyard has to have a yew and a holly though.  Nice for the long haul.  You may aswell add a monkey puzzle and ginko biloba.  All slow growers.

    You will need some faster growing trees / shrubs too.

    Usually churchyards are quite exposed.   You might need some kind of windbreak.   I figure that's what the poplars were grown for.





  • WelshonionWelshonion Posts: 3,114

    Anybody else think monkey puzzles are one of the ugliest trees?

  • nutcutletnutcutlet PeterboroughPosts: 26,107
    Welshonion wrote (see)

    Anybody else think monkey puzzles are one of the ugliest trees?


    yes i do welshonion, ghastly things and totally out of keeping with the English landscape.

  • nutcutletnutcutlet PeterboroughPosts: 26,107

    Wayside, I think it is a fallacy about the root spread. Poplar, willow and wild cherry and ash roots are much wider than the canopy in my experience. Maybe others as well but I haven't tracked those. But these are forest trees, I'd go with something that's never going to be 100foot tall. Hawthorn would be my choice. Yew, holly and box would suit for me because if the ever did get enormous it would be someone else's problem after I'm in the cemetery. (or the crematorium in my case)


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