6 Best Shade Trees To Plant That Don’t Cause Root Problems

Terraced and landscaped back garden in england uk with patio, grass and stone steps

In our gardens, we may work with a lot of constraints. Some constraints could be little sun, low nutrients, or even just working in small or urban spaces. With this, we may often look for specific plans to meet certain standards, such as being shade tolerant, yet not causing root problems. 

There are a few main trees able to both tolerate shade and have non-aggressive roots. Some prime examples include Florida maple trees, Pawpaws, English holly, miniature fruit trees, and Chinese pistache trees. These trees generally have shallow roots that don’t cause issues underground.

Read on to learn more about why you would need trees like these, the benefits of having shade-tolerant and non-aggressive trees, and how to plant them for yourself! 

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Why Do You Need Shade Loving Trees?

There are a few main reasons to grow shade trees specifically. Some of these reasons include ease of growth, size management, and growing in specific locations. 

To begin, growing shade trees is often easier when compared to growing conventional trees. Shade trees require less sun and other living factors, meaning that they are a little more flexible with their environment and grow with less care. 

In addition, shade trees often grow slower and smaller since they rarely gather as much solar energy. With this, shade trees are splendid for growing in smaller areas, where you may want to grow a tree of smaller stature. 

Finally, shade-loving trees allow gardeners to have trees in areas with less sun. This allows you to landscape easily and creates beautiful arrangements in almost any setting. 

Why Do You Need Non-Aggressive Roots?

Similarly to the issue of liking shade, you may ask yourself, “Why do I need a tree with non-aggressive roots?” There are a few reasons you may want non-aggressive roots, including growing in packed areas and maintaining safety around your growing area. 

It’s important to note that first, according to Wyoming Ohio, the more loose soil is, the more likely roots are to penetrate deeper.

So, if you have loose soil near a structure, this is something important to keep in mind.

One reason you may need trees with non-aggressive roots is growing in a smaller area. In smaller areas, you often need to pack more plants in and need them to share the space nicely. In contrast, if you plant plants or trees with aggressive roots in these packed spaces, their roots can easily dominate the area and choke out other plants.

On the other hand, you can plant trees with non-aggressive roots with more ease in these packed areas, and they can often nicely share space, nutrients, and water with the roots from other plants. 

In addition, growing safety is another reason you may want trees with non-aggressive roots. Trees with more aggressive roots can damage nearby housing materials (such as siding and concrete basing), and create hazards such as large sprawling roots. With this, non-aggressive trees can grant you a little more peace of mind when planting trees near buildings.

If you’re finding that you need to get rid of old tree roots, read our piece: Will Vinegar Get Rid of Tree Roots? Here’s What To Know.

Different Types Of Tree Roots 

Tree with roots

When looking into the aspects of “aggressive” and “non-aggressive” roots, we need to discuss what different types of roots there are, and if they are aggressive or not.

Thick Or Fibrous Roots

Many trees and plants create thick and fibrous root systems. These consist of often sprawling, large, thick, and hard-to-cut roots. Depending on the tree, these can be pretty tame, however, these are often more on the aggressive side.

Even if your tree has non-aggressive thick or fibrous roots, it could still cause problems in the future, as these types of roots are hard to cut and manage over time as they grow. 

Thin And Sprawling

Thin and sprawling roots are another type of root many trees can exhibit. These roots are usually thinner than most, more tender, and can often sprawl over extensive areas. 

Unless they severely overgrow and do not get proper care, these roots tend to be aggressive and even supporting to some areas. 


Taproots are a fairly interesting type of root both plants and trees can exhibit. Taproots are roots that shoot down straight from the plant to very low depths. These can be aggressive, however, it depends on your location. 

These roots can also be fairly sensitive, meaning that if they grow against something large, or experience disruption from above the soil, it can easily damage or hurt the tree. 

As mentioned, it depends on your location if growing taproot trees is right for you. If you are in a location with great soil that penetrates deep down (with no lower concrete or building materials), taproot trees can be a great option for you, since they can use the small space.

In contrast, if you live in an area with lots of building material buried, and also lots of horizontal growing space, taproot trees may not be the most effective thing to grow for you. 

Where Is The Best Place To Plant My Shade Loving Tree?

Planting your shade-loving tree depends on your location, however, there are a few prime locations where shade-loving trees thrive. For example, some great locations for your shade-loving tree include:

  • On the west or east side of your property
  • Some northern locations that still supply adequate light
  • Locations shaded by larger trees 

As with their name, shade trees thrive when supplied with some sun and some shade. Although they usually can grow with more or less sun, they like the middle ground between the two. 

Many people suggest trying to grow your shade trees on the eastern or western side of your property. These two directions get adequate sun, but they also get some shade throughout the day. In addition, some suggest even trying to grow on the northern side of your property, as these can sometimes get the right amount of sun as well. 

You can also try growing your shade tree in areas that are shaded by larger trees. This is often a perfect location to grow them, as larger trees create dappled, medium-light beneath them. In addition, this allows you to create beautiful landscaping in places where there may be old-growth trees!

6 Shade Trees To Plant That Don’t Cause Root Problems

Keeping in mind why you may need shade-loving or non-aggressive trees, now we can look into specific trees that are both shade tolerant and non-aggressive.

If you’re interested, you can also read our piece: 12 Fastest Growing Shade Trees For Small Yards.

Florida Maple Trees

Florida maple trees are trees that are naturally native to the “panhandle” region in Florida state. In addition, while they are in the maple family, they have fairly recognizable leaves, being a bit more rounded in the lobes as compared to other maples. 

These populations are fairly localized and niche to the area, meaning that they may fail if you are in areas with different climatic conditions. 

Florida maple trees are great because they do not require full sun like other maples (although more sun should not hurt them). On top of this, they also have less aggressive root systems when compared to other trees, making them great to plant in smaller areas with less sun. 

On the level of aesthetics, Florida maples are also remarkable because they give the looks of conventional maples while being able to thrive in locations with less advantageous conditions. For these reasons, Florida maple trees make a great substitution for other maples in small-scale landscaping. 

Pawpaw Trees

Pawpaw tree with fruit

Pawpaw trees are another great addition to this list, also yielding fruit on top of their growing benefits. To begin, Pawpaws are trees that are native to the Southern and Central United States and Canada, often found to be growing in larger forests or along the sides of wild-growth areas. 

Pawpaws are a great addition to your landscaping because they do not require full sun all the time. This is fairly surprising, as they do produce large amounts of fruit, which usually requires a fair amount of sun. 

In addition, Pawpaws also have fairly sensitive and small root systems, making them great for companion and landscape planting. 

On top of these pros, Pawpaw trees also produce a large yellow-brown fruit that has a semi-tropical taste. According to most, this fruit has a lovely custardy texture and a brilliant sweet taste. 

Pawpaws are another great option for your unique planting needs, especially if you are looking for plants able to produce fruit for you

Pawpaw trees are also discussed more in-depth in our article: 6 Best Fruit Trees That Have Shallow Roots: Identification Guide.

English Holly

English holly is a fairly common plant that you can find in many landscaping projects. This is most likely because it can produce beautiful, dense foliage in lower-light environments. 

One thing to keep in mind with holly is its regional invasiveness. Most hollies are invasive in the U.S., easily spreading and taking over sizeable areas of land. While it is not illegal to plant, you should be cautious when planting and maintaining this tree. 

As you can probably guess, you can maintain holly trees in smaller sizes, and they do not require the same soil and sunlight conditions as most conventional trees. 

Going along with this, you should always be cautious when planting holly trees, and you should be sure to check your local authorities on if they are safe to be planted in your area. If you can plant a holly in your location, stay vigilant and always keep it under control through its growing process. 

Miniature Fruit Trees

Close up of the leaves of pistacia chinensis with a person walking in the background on the left.

Miniature fruit trees are another great option for low-light conditions, and can also yield you some homegrown, delicious fruit.

Depending on your area, you may only be able to grow a few types of miniature fruit trees, as they still require some sun. In addition, creating fruit requires a lot of energy, so sometimes, if you have too much shade, these trees may produce less (or no) fruit. 

Miniature fruit trees are a great option, as they in nature have smaller and less aggressive root systems. Many of them are also genetically selected to be suitable for growing in areas with less light, as their smaller stature usually means they are under larger trees.

These reasons make miniature fruit trees a great addition to smaller areas in your landscaping, where you may also want to produce fruit! 

Chinese Pistache Trees

The Chinese pistache tree is a tree in the pistache or cashew family. Native to China, it is commonly planted in local walking areas due to its gorgeous foliage and fruit production.

To describe the tree, the Chinese pistache creates long lancelets of simple leaves which start green and turn a slew of yellow, orange, and red colors during the winter and fall. They also create unique coral-like flowers that turn into clusters of red fruit. 

Pistache trees can handle temperate climates and small areas with less sun, making them adaptable to many locations. These are just some reasons they become so popular to plant in temperate walking areas. 

American Hornbeam

The American hornbeam tree is also known as the blue beech, ironwood, or musclewood tree. It attained most of these names because of the appearance, density, and strength of its wood. 

The American hornbeam grows very large above the ground, creating a beautiful round swathe of leaves. It is also a deciduous tree, meaning its leaves turn all shades of fall colors and drop yearly, only to return in the springtime. 

The classic silhouette and landscaping ability of this tree is the reason it is commonly used. The tree is semi-shade tolerant and has simple, non-aggressive roots, making it a great all-purpose tree for your landscaping needs. 

Maintaining Your Shade Trees

Now that we have discussed why you may need shade trees, and which shade trees you can plant, we can now discuss how to maintain them after planting.

Like with most trees, shade trees require periodical care to maintain proper health and wellbeing. 

Basic Needs

The first thing you need to keep in mind after planting is the basic needs of your shade trees. These needs refer to things such as sun, watering, and nutrients. Most trees prefer around 1 inch of water per week and around 6 hours of sun. 

week and around 6 hours of sun. 

The main thing most people claim is important is consistency. Most plants can adapt to many schedules and conditions, meaning if you are consistent with watering and sunlight, your tree should be fine.

In addition, your tree also may require nutrients. To help with this, you can supplement its soil with amendments such as compost or fertilizer. One great example of clean tree fertilizer is these Jobe’s Tree Fertilizer Spikes. 

Periodical Care

Along with regular care such as watering and fertilizing, your tree may need some special periodical care. In most cases, it is best to check your tree every once in a while for damages, pests, and infestation. After checking, you can then periodically treat your tree or trim off dead or diseased branches.


In the end, there are many reasons you may want to grow trees tolerant of shade with non-aggressive roots. There are a few main trees that meet these guidelines, such as the Florida maple, Pawpaw, or many varieties of miniature fruit trees. 

After planting these trees, care for them with regular pruning, watering, and fertilizing. Overall, the main thing to remember is to have fun, so get out there, and start planting! 


Robert L. Cook. 1984. Shade trees. SIGGRAPH Comput. Graph. 18, 3 (July 1984), 223–231. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/964965.808602

Messier, C. (2009, May 1). Resource and non-resource root competition effects of grasses on early versus late-successional trees. Besjournals. https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2745.2009.01500.x

Hasselkus, E. R. (1977). Caring for Your Shade Trees. University of Wisconsin–Extension, Cooperative Extension.

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