Q. I have two Lleylandii conifers growing one foot away from the house wall, they are about 14ft tall with a trunk at base about 6 to 7 inches in diameter. Do you think they would have damaged foundations and do I need to remove them?
A. Too close - they probably won't damage foundations directly, but will dry the ground out causing it to expand and contract at a different rate to the rest of the soil around the house and this could cause cracks to appear (in the house brickwork!). I advise you chop them down or risk the consequences.
Q. We have a 25 year old Cherry Laurel Hedge between ourselves and next-door neighbours, about 5 meters away. They are concerned that the roots may be under mining the foundations of their house which is quite old and built on very shallow foundations. My question is what type of root structure does a Laurel have, is a ball type root or a long travelling root?
A. They're always difficult ones these questions especially when it concerns a potentially expensive liability such as damage to a house.
Laurels are not particularly known for causing problems near to properties and 5m is a fair distance away. The roots could well grow near to your neighbours house as Laurels are large vigorous plants (they can grow to 40 x 40ft given the chance) unless you have a dwarf variety "Otto Luyken" though this is generally not used as hedging.
Any potential damage is more likely through drying out of the soil causing subsidence (followed by "heave" when it rains again) rather than physical damage by the roots themselves of the house masonry and foundations.
Any advice comes with liability and so you'll be unlikely to find anyone who will say "yes it's ok, no problem". If there's a small chance of damage occurring (and in my opinion, from what you've told me, there IS a possibility) then it would not be a good idea to ignore it and hope for the best. If it was your own property that was threatened, you may take a lighter view of the threat (though I doubt it).
What to do? Check your own buildings insurance so that it covers damage to neighbours property by your plants, many policies have this built in but some do not.
You could get an expert in (at cost) to check the situation - taking soil samples near your neighbours house.
You could dig a trench at great effort on your neighbours side to sever the roots.
Keeping the laurels trimmed, you don't say how high they are, will help reduce root spread considerably, but not remove the threat.
The only way to eliminate the problem altogether is of course to remove the hedge.
Q. I have two mature willow trees in the garden within 20metres of the house. I am just in the process of a garden design project and the contractor is scaring me with advice on felling them because of the risk of subsidence.
A. Advice? with advice comes responsibility
and if the consequences are possible subsidence damage to a house, it will be a
rare advisor who will do anything but err on the side of caution.
Q. Robinia "Frisia" - I am trying to find out what the root structure is on this tree. I have one planted within 4 feet of a neighbours house and they are concerned about the footings. Its a mature tree ( some 25ft high) and I want to avoid removing it if the roots don't present a problem. Have contacted several local garden centres without success. Any advise appreciated.
A. The root structure is almost irrelevant. A leafy 25 foot anything tree, just 4 feet from a house is far too close for comfort. It's not physical damage by the roots penetrating the foundations that is the problem so much as how the leaves suck up water and dry out the soil so causing shrinkage and swelling over the period of the year.
Will it actually do this? Who knows? There are far too many variables, but would I suggest that you leave it in place with an assurance that it is ok? - no way. Would I plant a tree myself that will grow to such an height so close to a house? - no way.
Robinia's are members of the Leguminosae and so will most likely have a tap-root as characteristic of the family. Frisia can grow to 50ft and doesn't take kindly to pruning.
Q. There is a 80 ft beech tree in my garden which is 45 ft from the house. Is this a safe distance from the house?
A. I don't think that this is a question you're going to get any-one to answer anything but over-cautiously. With advice of this type goes liability and if the tree fell on the house the liability would be substantial. Beeches are shallow rooted and you've got a large one! Trees do contract disease and can rot and fall, the chances of this happening however is difficult to gauge.
If you're considering whether or not to fell the tree, you have to take into consideration factors such as it's age and health and if it is protected by some preservation order (the chances are that it will be), and how much you like it. You may consider contacting a tree surgeon to take a look first hand, though I have to say if I were that tree surgeon (and I'm not and have never been one) I'd err on the side of caution if advising to leave it or not - out comes the axe.
Q. Should laurel hedging should be kept away from buildings? and if so how far as I have just bought a property with a laurel hedge which is within a couple of feet of the building will the roots start to affect the foundations.
A. Contrary to popular belief, it's not the
roots directly damaging foundations that usually do the damage, but the fact that
large shrubs and trees can dry the ground out near buildings, so causing the ground
to shrink and swell according to the time of year and water availability. It's this
ground movement that causes the damage.
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