If you are thinking about planting a palm tree in your garden or growing one in a pot, one of the first things you need to think about is how deep the plant’s roots go. How much ground do palm trees need to grow properly? Can they be planted in pots? Let’s look at palm tree roots and how deep do they grow.
Palm tree roots don’t go down as deep as you might expect given the height of the tree. Usually, they will only root to about thirty-six inches, even when the tree is very tall. However, they have a wide horizontal spread and tend to form a mat quite near to the surface of the soil they are growing in.
How Deep Do The Roots Of Palms Grow?
If you have a very tall palm tree, how deep are its roots likely to be? This will depend on the tree and the situation in which it has grown, but usually, about thirty to thirty-six inches is the deepest the roots will grow to.
Instead, the roots tend to spread horizontally. They are very fibrous and tough, and they form a sort of mat in the surface soil all around the tree. If you ever end up digging a palm tree up, you might be amazed by the density of the roots, and how small the overall root network is, given how tall these amazing trees can grow.
That means that if you need to dig up a palm tree, you may be able to do so. The roots are pretty thin and will break reasonably easily if you try to cut them, as they stay thin even when they grow long.
The roots spread widely to increase the plant’s access to water and nutrients, but this also helps them to thoroughly anchor the plant. A wide root ball is key to a palm tree’s ability to stay upright and grow.
How Far Can A Palm Tree’s Roots Spread Horizontally?
The roots can travel a surprising distance horizontally, even though they don’t go very deep down. Depending on the size, age and species of the tree, you may see roots as far from the main trunk as fifty feet.
These roots will usually be very thin and fairly fragile, and they will break easily, but they serve a purpose. They help the palm plant to gather food and water from a distance, and although they are thin, they are crucial.
They don’t thicken as the tree ages, and while you might expect them to widen as the tree gets older, they just grow longer.
If you want to put numbers on the spread of a palm’s roots, it obviously depends on the tree’s height, but in general, the roots of a tall palm will grow to about forty inches around the tree.
Because they grow so densely and so close to the surface, you probably won’t see any other plants growing in the vicinity of your palm, because the roots will block them.
What about a smaller palm? How far do their roots spread? Again, it is height dependent, but if the palm is less than sixteen feet tall, its roots will usually only spread to around twenty-four inches around the tree.
That is impressively small for a tall tree, so if you need a tree with shallow, small roots, a palm may be perfect for you!
What About The Taproot?
You are probably aware that many plants have a taproot that grows far deeper down than the main root ball. The other roots of the plant will spread around it, but the taproot usually grows straight down into the ground.
The taproot serves as a plant’s anchor, which is why it runs so deep. You might be wondering how deep a palm’s taproot goes, rather than just its root ball.
Palm trees don’t have taproots. This is somewhat unusual, but even the tallest of these trees do not grow and depend upon a taproot. Instead, the wide mat of roots serves as their anchor and keeps them firmly fixed in the ground.
The taproot doesn’t have much of an impact on you or the tree unless you decide that you want to or need to remove a plant. At that point, you usually have to dig up or break the root, which can kill the tree.
Fortunately, this isn’t necessary with palm trees! Because they lack a taproot, all you have to do is get the root ball above ground, and the tree can be relocated with minimal effort.
What Happens If The Roots Aren’t Given Space To Spread?
What happens if your palm tree’s roots haven’t got enough room to spread out? If you plant your palm tree near other dense and established plants, or in a container that is too small, does this damage the plant?
It can do, yes. If the roots don’t have enough space, they can get so tightly and densely packed around each other that they are no longer able to effectively take up nutrients or water. This damages the tree, and you may see that the palm’s leaves start to turn brown and crispy.
This is because the palm is getting dehydrated. It cannot access the things that it needs, and it may stop growing properly, or become sickly.
It is important to make sure palm trees do have enough space to spread their roots out and grow properly, or you risk both their health and stability. If they can’t grow a proper root ball, palm trees may topple over. This rarely happens, but they do need a good root ball to grow securely.
Don’t plant your palm tree in a container that is much too small, or try to crowd it in among established plants, as it may not grow well. It is important to give it a decent amount of space, especially if it is going to be a tall palm – it needs several feet for its roots.
Can A Palm Tree’s Roots Grow Above Ground?
You may have seen palm trees where the roots are above the ground. This is because they are shallow growing and sometimes, they may get pushed above ground, often by other roots.
This is nothing major to worry about, although it is best avoided if possible, so you should plant your palm so that its top roots are at least an inch below ground.
While the above-ground roots won’t hurt the tree, they indicate that the spread of the root ball is extremely close to the surface, and if that’s the case, the tree is more at risk of being toppled by strong winds. This is unlikely to happen, but it’s best to get the roots an inch or so below ground if you can.
It’s also worth noting that roots growing above ground offer no value to the tree because they can’t take in nutrients, absorb water, or keep the tree anchored. They will desiccate and cease to grow, doing no harm to the tree, but offering no benefit either.
Roots that grow above the ground are called adventitious roots. They shouldn’t really appear on your palm tree unless you have planted it too close to the surface.
Will My Palm Tree’s Roots Do Damage To Concrete?
One of the commonest reasons for being concerned by any tree’s root growth is because the roots may do damage to other structures. If you need (or want) to plant your palm tree near a wall or a building, you might be wondering how much of an issue the roots could be.
It is relatively unlikely that a palm tree will do damage to concrete. Because the roots don’t thicken with age, even if the roots grow beneath the concrete, they will probably make little difference.
They will push aside the soil and may marginally shift the concrete, but this should be so minimal as to be unnoticeable in most cases. It is quite unlikely that the roots will do harm to a building or a wall.
You may still choose to plant your palm tree a reasonable distance away so that the roots have plenty of room to spread and gather nutrients without being interrupted by the foundations of a building, but on the whole, the roots of palm trees pose no threat to concrete.
There is also a small risk of the palm falling on the house. While palms do not usually fall, a combination of roots struggling because of concrete obstructions and simple bad luck could lead to disaster. It is probably best not to plant your palm tree too close to your home or to other outdoor buildings.
Will My Palm Tree’s Roots Do Damage To Pipework?
Another factor when thinking about the underground space is the pipework that may be down there. Because the roots are quite shallow, they may not interfere with the pipes, but this does depend on how deeply the pipes have been laid.
If the pipes are near to the surface and the palm tree is planted close to them, it does have the potential to do some damage as it works its roots outward. Again, because the roots are thin, the chances are fairly low, but pipework is not as strong as concrete, and the potential is there.
It is possible for the root ball to end up pressing against the pipes, putting strain on them, and doing damage in the long term. While a few palm roots are unlikely to do much damage, if you plant your tree too close to pipework, its weight may cause issues.
This is particularly true for large palms, which of course have a wider and deeper root ball than smaller palms. The big varieties are more likely to interact with and potentially damage pipework, so think carefully about their placement and do not put them somewhere they are likely to damage the pipes leading to your home.
How Do I Remove A Palm Tree’s Roots?
Unfortunately, sometimes you will need to remove a palm tree’s roots, either because the palm is causing a problem or because the roots themselves are. This is very annoying, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to do.
- The first thing you should do is remove the tree.
- Once you have just a stump left, you can dig around it using a sharp shovel.
- Get rid of about thirty inches of soil around the stump of the tree.
You can cut the roots off with a saw or an ax, and then dig up any large chunks you can see. Take your time, removing all the big pieces you find to reduce the chances of the tree growing back. Some palm trees are capable of regrowing from their roots, so keep an eye on this in the future as well.
If there is any pipework near your palm tree, be very careful when removing the roots, as they will sometimes have wrapped themselves around the pipes and formed a mat that holds the pipe captured inside.
If this has happened, you will need to cut away the roots carefully, rather than pulling them up. If you just pull them up, they are likely to damage the pipes.
Palm tree roots do not grow as deeply as many people would expect, given the height of the trees. Rather than depending on depth to maintain their stability and gather water and nutrients, they spread out into a thickly matted root ball that grows quite close to the surface.
This is great news if you need to remove a palm tree, as it makes it easier to get them out of the ground, but it does mean the palms are slightly less stable and strong, as they have no taproot keeping them anchored to the ground, so they are more liable to fall than some other kinds of trees.