Pine tree roots

Pine trees are a popular choice to provide year-round protection and greenery for homes. When thinking about planting any tree, the root system needs to be taken into consideration to ensure it will grow well in the soil type and won’t cause damage to building foundations.

Pine tree root systems have shallow, lateral roots that spread to a 30-foot radius & are 12 inches or less below the soil. Pine trees also have tap roots that extend vertically down around 6 feet. Pine tree roots are not invasive, & usually do not cause damage to foundations.

Pine tree roots have a shallow system of lateral roots, and deeper tap roots. Although the root system typically reaches out to an 8 meter radius, and reaches depths of around 2 meters, pine tree roots are not damaging to the foundations of buildings.

Pine tree roots

Pine trees are evergreens, with needles instead of leaves and cones that encase seeds.

Species include the Scots pine, commonly grown as a Christmas tree.

True pines are in the genus Pinus.

Many trees that use ‘pine’ in their common name, such as Huon pines or the once thought to be extinct Wollemia pines, are not actually pines.

The roots of a pine tree help it absorb water, nutrients and gases, and provide it with an anchor against strong winds. Depending on the soil type and conditions, the roots can make up just 10% of the tree mass, or extend to reach hard to find water.

The roots of a pine tree enable the plant to absorb water, nutrients and gases from the soil.

The spread & depth of pine tree roots is highly dependent on the conditions they are growing in.

See how plants get food.

Roots also provide pine trees with stability.

See how root rot develops.

Pine tree roots system

The root systems of pine trees are similar to most other trees.

Tap roots extend vertically, deep into the soil to access water sources during dry periods.

Oblique roots, or heart roots, grow directly from the base of the trunk.

Lateral roots sit closer to the surface and extend out in a shallow network.

Pine trees have deep tap roots, lateral roots that sit closer to the surface, and oblique roots that grow outward from the base of the trunk. The tree also extends vertical sinker roots from the lateral roots, and secondary roots which extend the surface area of the system.

Smaller sinker roots and secondary roots grow from the main roots, creating a large surface area to absorb water, nutrients and gases.

Pine tree roots removal

Lateral roots of pines that are encroaching in the wrong place can be removed without harming the tree itself. 

To completely remove the root system of a pine tree, the entire stump needs to be removed.

Smaller tree stumps can be removed by digging away at the surrounding soil, and cutting and roots that are growing from it.

Larger tree stumps, or stumps in difficult to reach areas, can be ground down from above until the base of the tree is gone.

Very large stumps may require mechanical assistance to pull them out.

To completely remove a pine tree, the stump needs to be cut away from the network of roots. This can be done by removing the soil around the base and cutting each root, grinding down the stump itself, or using heavy machinery to completely pull the stump out.

Herbicides are not recommended as the amount that would be needed to kill a mature tree would also cause soil and wider environmental damage.

How far do pine tree roots spread?

If you’ve ever walked through a pine forest, you will know that the shallow roots of pine trees extend far beyond the tree itself.

The lateral roots are shallow, and spread to 2-3 times the radius of the canopy.

In dry conditions, the lateral roots can spread further to around 5 times the canopy radius.

Like most trees, the lateral roots of pine trees can spread to 2-3 times the radius of the pine canopy, or up to 5 times the radius in dry conditions. For most pines, this is around 24 feet. The tap roots do not spread far, and instead extend vertically, deep into the soil to reach water.

The tap roots do not spread far, however, and instead extend much deeper than lateral roots. 

Pine tree roots depth

The depth of pine roots is heavily dependent on the environment in which it is growing.

In areas where rainfall is less frequent, or where the soil does not hold water well, pine tree roots will grow deeper.

Pine tree tap roots can get as deep as 18 feet.

Tap roots in areas with plenty of rainfall and soil that retains moisture, will be much shallower.

The tap roots of pine trees can grow as deep as the tree is tall, getting to more than 18 feet in depth and over 60 feet in length. The lateral roots are shallow and tend to sit 12 inches or less below the surface. The depth of pine roots is highly dependent on the growing conditions.

Lateral roots do not grow deep, and will typically be less than 12 inches below the soil.

Do pine trees have deep roots?

The depth of pine roots is dependent on the species, genetics of the individual plant and the conditions it is growing in.

Soil conditions have a much larger effect on the depth of tree roots than its genetics.

In loamy soil, a typical pine will have roots that are around 2 meters deep.

In loose, well-draining soil, pine tree roots will grow to around 3 meters deep.

In moisture-retaining soil, pine roots will be more like 1 meter deep.

See why water is so important for plants.

Pines have a moderate root depth. In loamy soils, they will grow to around 6 feet in depth, although they can go much deeper in loose, well-draining soil. Species such as larch, apple trees and oak tend to have deeper roots whereas sycamore and hemlocks are shallower.

Pine tree roots tend to be shallower than species such as larch, apple trees and oaks.

Pine trees have deeper roots than most sycamores and hemlocks.

Can pine tree roots damage foundation?

Care should be taken when planting trees near to buildings, as some species can damage the foundations.

Invasive species, such as silver maples, will crack concrete pavements, driveways, underground pipes and foundations.

Pine tree roots are not any more damaging to foundations than other tree varieties.

Tree roots that damage building foundations are commonly called invasive, because they grow into structures instead of being blocked by them. Pine tree roots can sometimes be invasive if there are cracks in foundations or structures which allow roots to obtain water.

Tree roots are opportunistic, and seek water. So, cracks in walls, foundations, & other structures can lead to damage by tree roots seeking water.

Although pine trees do not generally cause damage to foundations, they can be blown over in high winds if they are allowed to grow tall.

Medium sized pine trees should be planted at least 5 meters from a building to reduce the risk of causing damage if it is blown over.

See how invasive fig tree roots can be.

Conclusion

Pine trees are evergreen, making them good options for providing year-round shade, protection from wind and greenery for gardens.

The depth and spread of pine tree roots is highly dependent on their growing conditions.

The root systems of pine trees can be quite extensive and deep, but they do not cause damage to building foundations.

About the author

Greg Volente

Greg Volente holds a Naturalist Certificate from the Morton Arboretum, worked for The Nature Conservancy leading environmental education programs and doing natural areas restoration, and worked in the soil science research & testing lab at Michigan State University. Besides gardening, he's an avid wildflower enthusiast, and loves botanizing, hiking, and backpacking.