The beautiful tree in the front yard can become the very annoying tree in the front yard when its roots set about making knotwork out of the pipes underground. If you want to be sure that the tree and hedge leave the underground cables alone, you should plant flat-rooted plants. But real shallow roots – as you will soon find out, some trees and shrubs define this term quite imaginatively.

How do you become a flat rooter?

In contrast to the human flat-nosed pliers, who want to achieve a lot with little effort as intellectual thin-board borers, the flat-rooted plant has really made an effort in the course of its evolution: When the first living beings emerged a few billion years ago, they developed in water. While humans completed the decisive step on land in the development stage “fish with arms and legs”, the first moss-like land plants were washed ashore, found the pleasantly empty and non-competitive habitat in contrast to the primeval sea great and wanted to stay.

These first land plants still absorbed water, including nutrients, via their surface; anchored at best with a few underground crawling rungs somewhere where they were sufficiently submerged. But it was getting drier, so the land plants began to develop roots in order to be able to feed themselves from the soil that was just emerging around them. As the environment evolved, plants evolved their roots to fit the environment, and certain environments happen to have shallow roots best.

The typical environment of a shallow rooter

Shallow-rooted plants have developed roots that do not penetrate the soil, but extend horizontally into the top layers of soil just below the surface.

Such roots are useful for several reasons:

  • Shallow roots are very useful when a plant often “gets into” locations where it is really windy
  • “gerattle” means: overall, with a good chance that one’s own seeds will have to withstand storms again
  • The flatter and broader the root, the better a plant can hold on to
  • Shallow roots also develop in areas where the soil consists of a few inches of rocky soil
  • Such stone soils with a thin layer of soil are often found on coasts and in the mountains
  • However, under unfavorable conditions, soil can also form a rock-hard layer just below the surface
  • Or a plant has adapted to drought stress, stress from lack of water
  • It occurs when the body’s transpiration rate is higher than its water intake
  • If this happens more often, a plant has to come up with something if it doesn’t want to die out
  • Shallow roots also help in deep soil, which are simply formed additionally while the plant is “taking a break” at the top.
  • More roots spread further catch every raindrop

Caution: “cross-rooters” can also go deep

How the root behaves during growth also depends on whether a plant developed its root genes exclusively in such an environment or whether the roots only had to become shallow roots under certain conditions.

Many plants adapt to surprisingly impenetrable substrates and let their roots spread out. However, if you stand in deep soil, they will grow downward again as normal. Other plants adapt to the quality of the soil with variable root systems. B. on shallow and poorly water-permeable soils to shallow roots, on deep soils they develop downward-growing sinker roots from the side roots.

black pines e.g. B. Send a strong taproot into the ground as an anchor, followed by horizontally growing lateral roots of the 1st order, from which lateral roots of the 2nd order then grow vertically into the ground. The whole thing also adapts to the conditions. On rocky and largely bare sites, most of the roots remain at the surface, but every crevice in the rock is used to anchor the tree deeply.

If you have reasons for wanting to put a shallow-rooting plant in the garden that only develops shallow roots, you should buy a “real shallow-rooting plant” from a specialist who can answer all your questions about root development in detail.

And no special offer in the discounter, from which the seller assures you that the shallow roots can already be seen and that this wood will definitely not grow deep into the earth. If you can already see the shallow roots, having been brutally trimmed beforehand for easy transport, you no longer need to worry about shallow or deep roots. This plant will die soon anyway. If the roots are shallow because they’re small and the plant is young, whatever you’re trying to protect from deep roots may be in serious jeopardy.

Types and varieties of flat-rooted plants

The flat roots include B. the following well-known trees and hedge shrubs:

  • Maple, Acer, several species/varieties such as A. campestre, A. negundo, A. palmatum, A. platanoides
  • Ahornblättrige Platane, Platanus x hispanica
  • Apple tree, Malus domestica
  • Apfelbeere, Aronia melanocarpa
  • Bamboo, Fargesia, several types/varieties, e.g. BF murielae, F. nitida
  • Baumwolle, Gossypium hirsutum
  • Baumwürger, Celastrus orbiculatus
  • Berglorbeer, Kalmia latifolia
  • Birke, Betula pendula
  • Birnbaum, Pyrus communis
  • Bubble tree, Koelreuteria paniculata
  • Blaugurke, Decaisnea fargesii
  • blue rain, wisteria, wisteria, e.g. BW floribunda and W. sinensis
  • Blutjohannisbeere, Ribes sanguineum
  • Wolfberry, goji berry, lycium, several types/varieties, e.g. BL barbarum, L. chinense
  • Buche, Fagus
  • Eberesche, Vogelbeere, Sorbus aucuparia
  • Edelginster, Cytisus x praecox
  • Ivy, Hedera helix
  • Pea bush, Caragana arborescens
  • Erle, Alnus glutinosa
  • Ash, Fraxinus, first vertical main root, after a few cm horizontal root growth with sinking roots downwards, max. 140 cm
  • Essigbaum, Rhus typhina
  • Färberginster, Genista tinctoria
  • Rock pear, amelanchier, several types/varieties, e.g. BA laevis, A. lamarckii
  • Spruce, Picea, several species/varieties, e.g. BP abies, P. glauca, P. omorika, initially shallow roots, sinking roots when old
  • Feather muscle, Sorbaria sorbifolia
  • Lilac, Syringa
  • Forsythia, Forsythia, several types/varieties, e.g. BF giraldiana, F. ovata, F. suspensa, F. x intermedia
  • Gewürzstrauch, Calycanthus floridus
  • laburnum, laburnum
  • Goldulme, Ulmus minor
  • Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima
  • Hainbuche, Carpinus
  • Dogwood, Cornus, several types/varieties, e.g. B. Cornus controversa, C. florida
  • Haselnuss, Corylus avellana
  • Sacred Bamboo, Nandina domestica
  • Hemlocktanne, Tsuga canadensis
  • Hortensie, Hydrangea, H. arborescens, H. aspera, H. macrophylla, H. paniculata, H. petiolaris, H. quercifolia, H. sargentiana
  • Judasbaum, Cercis siliquastrum
  • Camellia, Camelia, several types/varieties, e.g. BC japonica, C. sinensis
  • Kaskadenstrauch, Holodiscus discolor
  • Chestnut tree, Aesculus, several species/varieties, e.g. BA hippocastanum, A. parviflora
  • Caucasian wingnut, Pterocarya fraxinifolia
  • Pine, Pinus, several species/cultivars such as Banks pine (from an island), Black pine (if the subsoil forces it), Weymouth pine (sends roots where the most is to be fetched, possibly also deep down)
  • Kiwi, Actinidia , several types/varieties, e.g. BA arguta, A. deliciosa
  • Knopfbusch, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  • Kornelkirsche, Cornus mas
  • Kuchenbaum, Cercidiphyllum japonicum
  • Tree of Life, Thuja
  • Magnolia, several species/varieties, M. liliiflora, M. stellata, M. x soulangiana, M. × soulangeana, as one of the oldest flowering plants in the world apparently still stuck in the tradition of the mosses washed ashore …
  • Sequoia, Sequoia, several species/varieties, e.g. BS sempervirens, S. giganteum
  • Pappel, Populus
  • Parrotie, Parrotia persica
  • Smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria
  • Prachtglocke, Enkianthus campanulatus
  • Ornamental spar, Exochorda racemosa
  • Prunus, several species/cultivars, e.g. P. avium, P. padus, P. spinosa, P. tenella, P. accolade, P. amanogawa
  • Rainweide, Ligustrum vulgare
  • Ranunkelstrauch, Kerria japonica
  • Rhododendron
  • Robinie, Scheinakazie, Robinia pseudoacacia
  • Scheinzypresse, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana
  • Schirmtanne, Sciadopitys verticillata
  • Schneeball, Viburnum, z. B. Viburnum farreri, Viburnum rhytidophyllum, Viburnum x burkwoodii
  • Schneeflockenstrauch, Chionanthus virginicus
  • Snowdrop tree, Halesia carolina
  • Cord Tree, Pagoda Tree, Sophora japonica
  • Chocolate Vine, Akebia quinata
  • Black elder, Sambucus nigra
  • Summer lilac, Buddleja, several types/varieties, e.g. BB alternifolia, B. davidii
  • Handkerchief tree, Davidia involucrata
  • Devil’s Cane, Aralia elata
  • Thuja, tree of life, thuja, e.g. B. Thuja occidentalis, Thuja plicata
  • Traubenheide, Leucothoe fontanesiana
  • Willows, Salix, several species/varieties
  • witch hazel, witch hazel
  • Zierquitte, Chaenomeles japonica
  • Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens

Recognize shallow roots

There are more flat-rooted plants than in the list, which is already quite comfortably populated, which is no wonder with an estimated number of around 500,000 plant species. God knows not all of them are flat-rooted and not all flat-rooted plants grow here, but there are a lot. Due to global warming, more and more plants from warmer countries are also being imported, so a general identification formula would be useful.

There is such a determination formula for shallow roots. It hides in regulations protecting trees from root zone disturbance during construction. In these regulations, a distinction is made that helps to determine shallow roots: In the case of normal and deep-rooted trees, the area under the crown plus 1.5 m on all sides counts as the root area, in the case of columnar trees it is the area under the crown plus 5 m on all sides.

One thing is clear: with a tree with a narrow crown, there is a very good chance that it will form shallow roots. Cultivated columnar forms are sometimes classified in the regulations as flat-rooted plants, but if in doubt you should not rely on them, at least not when it is not about protecting the roots but about protecting deep-lying pipes etc. from the roots. You can only be sure of the species that are known to have flat roots anyway and are also bred as particularly narrow columnar forms.

These special breeds have also grown above ground in a 2 sqm garden or result in a particularly narrow hedge:

  • Pillar Blood Maple
  • Pillar Hornbeam
  • Pillar red beech
  • Pillar golden beech
  • Pillar Bubble Ash
  • Pyramidenpappel
  • Pillar Aspen
  • Pillar Carnation
  • Pear “Redspire”
  • Eberesche Sorbus „Autumn Spire“

special treatment

What could become a problem in the 2 sqm garden just mentioned is the root area of ​​the shallow roots:

If this 2 square meter garden is actually in a garden, as a demarcated piece with neighboring plots, the neighbors are usually not exactly happy when a shallow rooter spreads into their area as well. If you “can smell the trouble,” you might want to consider planting a root barrier before planting a shallow-rooted plant.

If the 2 square meter garden is a balcony, you certainly don’t want to fill it up with a flat, wide planter for flat-rooted plants. You can try out whether a certain flat-rooted plant will also survive in a normal balcony planter. From a purely logical point of view, however, deep-rooted plants with a narrow habit that get a particularly high bucket are more suitable for balconies.

The location of a flat-rooted plant in the garden should also be carefully considered:

  • do not plant in windy places, most flat-rooted plants are endangered by windthrow
  • optimal soil, with poor soil conditions shallow roots find even less support
  • Shallow roots need the substrate with which it can get along best
  • There are flat-rooted plants that thrive well in rock gardens because they grow there with their roots on rocks
  • Watch out for competing plants in the root area
  • if these are very strong, they could assert themselves excessively against widespread fine roots
  • Avoid shallow rooters if they dig frequently
  • Flachwurzler helps with near-natural management and professional soil care by penetrating the soil with its roots, loosening it and clearing the way for microorganisms

Shallow roots have the advantage that you don’t have to worry about the roots crowding and/or damaging your supply lines. They have the disadvantage that they can lack stability in the wrong location. The fact that the shallow roots run through a fairly large part of the garden soil that is interesting for gardeners with their roots is a disadvantage for cultivated gardeners who till the soil and an advantage for natural gardeners who care for the soil.

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