Need ideas for a front yard tree without surface roots

eddie_ilMay 4, 2008

Hi everyone. I was thinking about planting a red sunset maple or a smaller sugar maple in the front yard but then read that they might have surface roots. Does anyone have ideas for a front yard tree that would not have big problems with surface roots? I guess a few surface roots here and there would be OK but I don't want to be tripping over them and have trouble moving around them. I live in the middle of IL. This would be the only tree in my front yard, I can at most a 35' diameter tree since I have a pie shaped lot. My house faces west. Thanks for any ideas you have!

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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Even oak trees will have surface roots but I don't remember which one they were. I've tripped over them plenty of times in my life. Can't say the same for maple trees that I can recall though. Big box stores in Texas are ruining things for us with silver maples which is probably one of the worst trees you can plant in the lawn along with Norway maple. Look around your town for mature red or sugar maple and check if there's surface roots. If you have sandy soil, it might not pose much of a problem compared to heavy clay. Check out shantung maple or trident maples as well.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2008 at 11:29PM
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Have you thought about a yellow poplar, also called "tulip tree?" They're fairly fast growing,have a nice pyramid shape,very good shade tree, and can live for 300-500 years if they are taken care of. I have many mature ones here and their roots do not come to the surface. I have lots of maples of all sorts in the woods,and many of them have their roots above ground.

Another tree that's very beautiful---gets red flowers all over it--is the red horsechestnut. It's a real showpiece and unusual.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 8:16AM
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My 25 x 20 foot crabapple tree has no surface roots after 30 years.
Also perhaps Japanese maples don't get surface roots - but I'm not sure. I've read j.m.s don't get those invasive roots that get into underground sewer pipes.
Dogwoods don't get too huge - but I don't know about surface roots. I think they look terrific in all seasons - but as a Virginian, I'm biased!

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 8:45AM
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Thanks everyone for the great ideas!

Lou - I'll definitely look around to see how sugar and red maples around hre are doing with surface roots, thanks for the tip. Green Zeus- like the nickname, I think I might plant a popular tree in the backyard, it look like it can get pretty big, I read 50' wide to a 100' tall, that'd neat that it can live that long! Suel - I like the japanese maple idea and I got a great spot for it in the backyard.

I realized I left off some important details. I need a tree that has at least a medium growth rate and can provide some shade, peferably 30' or taller, my house gets hit pretty hard by hard by the sun since it faces west. I'm a first time home owner with a new house and deciding to do the landscaping myself and finding out its a little more challenging than I thouht so I appeciate the help!


    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 10:27PM
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Michael Dirr says if he could have only one tree, it would be a circidiphyllum japonicum - a Katsura tree. Gets about 40-50' tall, 20-30' wide, possibly wider. Medium to fast growing; needs ample moisture in its early years but is trouble-free after that.

If I had it to do over, that's what I'd plant in my front yard.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 10:44PM
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If I had to do it over, I'd replace our large maple with one of those sterile maples that produces no seeds. Didn't know before such trees existed. Our backyard maple (Norway?) must drop 10 gazillion seeds all over - a royal pain!!!!!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 9:38AM
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leslies(z7 No VA)

Liriodendron grows pretty quickly, and gets quite tall - that may be your best bet for shade earlier rather than later. At the risk of incurring the ire of the elm-indifferent, you might also consider an American elm. Also a fairly fast growing shade tree with well-behaved roots.

The surface roots of most maples suck all the water out of the soil and the dense shade (and roots) will make growing grass underneath nearly impossible, but they are not usually big and lumpy in a way that's hazardous to people trying to walk underneath. If you like maples, and don't have a strong commitment to your lawn, sugar maples are a lovely choice.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 12:22PM
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The katura tree is a cool tree but it sounds like its has bad surface roots:

The elm and tulip trees are nice but they get big! I read the elm can get up to 50 ft wide and 90 ft tall.

I'd love to plant a sugar maple, my favorite fall tree, but hmmm I'd also like to have a somewhat decent lawn.

I guess I have pretty tough requirements with no more than 35' diameter, around 30' tall or more to provides some shade, minimal surface root issues so I can have a somewhat decent lawn, somewhat disease resistant, not a slow growth rate, preferably a nice fall color.

I appreciate everyones help. Thanks for all the ideas!


    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 9:43PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Shantung maple will get to that size. It grows a lot faster than sugar maple (Caddo) over here and it's a very strong tree. I have not seen any root surface on 9/10 years old that is almost 30 feet tall at Metro Maples in Ft Worth, Texas. The 'Fire Dragon' shantung maple produces red fall color and we don't get much of fall color down here most years but not this tree.

Unfortunately, it's the only place you can get it from. They ship small ones during late winter only.

Here is a link that might be useful: Metro Maples

    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 10:04AM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

I do have a sugar maple called big tooth maple that is native to Texas. It's only 3 feet and I planted it over the winter. It isn't much of fast grower like shantung maple which seemed to take off (if planted before spring growth). It is a smaller version of sugar maple from northeast. What sets big tooth maple apart from the ones in northeast is the better drought tolerant, heat tolerant and can grow in high pH (alkaline) soil with no problem. Caddo is another variant of sugar maple from Oklahoma (Caddo County) but it seems to hate excessive water. Best where lawn do not get watering apparently...

    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 11:21AM
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If your house faces west and you need some fast relief from hot afternoon sun; then along with planting the trees you choose, also, install shade screens on all of your West, Southwest and Northwest facing windows.

Any fast growing tree you plant could take a year or two to establish a good root system before it begins to grow and spread, Then it could take another few years for the tree to grow and spread enough to provide the shade you desire. That is why installing shade screens are well worth the expense if afternoon direct sun and heat-up is a problem.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 11:53AM
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Somerset & Sun Valley red maples are medium rate growers, get 25-30 feet high and 20 feet wide, red fall color & NO seeds. Here's a link:

Since they don't get huge they may not get big honking surface roots.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 2:23PM
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Great ideas everyone!

Lou - the bigtooth maple sounds perfect! just the right size. I read here that its surface aren't a problem:
Any problem with surface roots on you're tree? I also like the shantung maple
Sue-the sommerset and sun valley sound like great trees too.
Katrina - Thanks for the tip on the shade screen.

I looked at Dirr's and a couple other sources for trees but you can't always find this type of info in a book.

I'm wondering if I can find these trees locally. I think I'd be a little leary of trying to by a tree through the mail.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 11:10PM
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I was really dissapointed that I couldn't find these trees at the local nurseries. Any other ideas??

    Bookmark   May 9, 2008 at 11:22PM
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I have bought trees thru the mail at Advanced Tree Technology ('Renci' birches) and Greenwood Nursery ('Akebono' Yoshino cherry) bare root; and Forestfarm('Saposhnikovii' birch). I planted in the fall & all have grown fantastically well! I wouldn't hesitate to buy from a reputable online nursery.

I always check them out at the Garden Watchdog site, cut & paste this link:

I scroll down to "browse by first letter", click on the letter the company starts with, hopefully find the company on the list, read the reviews. It hasn't steered me wrong yet!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 8:41AM
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Any chance you can post a picture of your house, or one like it? Often that helps suggest a specific tree, as they all have their own unique character.

I am so excited, I got a Prairefire crabapple tree for Mother's Day!! Our house is a tall, old colonial but the crab will frame our front picture window, without blocking out all the sun. I plan to plant some large hostas and maybe bergenia underneath the canopy. The rest of the bed will stay sunny, so I can still have a few blooms in summer.

Maybe it's smaller at 15-20' H X W than what you want, or think you want? We're going to plant it today, since rain is forecast for tomorrow.

It will be planted in my west-facing front yard. It has dark pink flowers, dark green leaves, supposedly persistent fruit (about 1/2" in diameter), and excellent disease resistance.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2008 at 2:15PM
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Sue - Thanks for the idea of ordering online. Seems like a great way find trees not local. I'm hoping though to find something local to get a more established tree since my front yard is empty right now. Definitely something i will look into for my backyard trees.

prariegirl - That's a good point on considering the type of house. I don't have any good digital picture of my house. Its a typical two story reddish brick house with tan siding and a small porch. Its in a subdivison and my lot size is only 1/3 acre. Prariefire crabs are nice! It will add a lot of color in the spring.

Thanks for the ideas!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2008 at 2:22PM
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Do a little research on the BALD CYPRESS. The shade is more of a filtered type of shade but the roots seem to stay below grade unless planted or growing wild in a swamp like setting. In a swamp the roots can project upwards out of the water to form what is referred to as 'knees'. Most people do not realize that these trees will thrive in a non swamp setting. I planted one in my yard about 5 yrs. ago after observing several mature ones in our area. Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2011 at 7:09PM
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