6 Best Fruit Trees That Have Shallow Roots: Identification Guide

Potted citrus tree on windowsill indoors. Space for text

In recent times, more and more people have been interested in being more self-sufficient and healthy with their food. In most cases, this means looking into types of fruit trees that are easy to grow and will produce lots of delicious food. In addition, most people also want to look for fruit trees that are easy growing and won’t be invasive/damaging with their roots. 

The most common fruit trees that have shallow, non-invasive roots include but aren’t limited to: 

  • Pawpaw trees
  • Dwarf plum trees
  • Dwarf citrus trees
  • Apple Trees
  • Lemon trees
  • Dwarf cherry trees

Typically, these trees can be grown indoors, in pots as well.

Read on to learn more about why you should have fruit trees, why it is important/beneficial to have shallow-rooted trees, and what specific trees have shallow/non-invasion roots!

Just to add – when you shop using links from Tree Journey, we may earn affiliate commissions if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Why Are Fruit Trees So Popular? 

As mentioned, in recent times, fruit trees have been becoming increasingly popular for multiple reasoning, including production, appearance, and environmental impact. 

To start, more people are deciding to grow fruit trees for the simple fact that they make fruit. Not only is fruit delicious, but when you grow it yourself, you know exactly what is going into it.

Another reason why people choose fruit trees is that they look nice. In many settings, fruit trees are a great addition to front yards/gardens, being able to look tidy and clean while still producing food.

In addition to this, fruit trees add a little bit of height to your yard, but you don’t have to worry about them overgrowing an area (especially if you regularly prune them). 

Lastly, people are choosing to grow fruit trees due to their positive environmental impact. For instance, planting trees in general sequesters carbon in the wood/soil, however, fruit trees also have the added benefit of feeding local pollinators with their flowers.

In addition, eating fruit from personal trees (as compared to store-bought) saves carbon/energy used in industrial farming/fruit shipping. 

Basics of Fruit Trees

To understand and how your fruit tree grows well, you need to know the basics: how they grow, what they want, etc. 

How Fast Do Fruit Trees Grow 

On average, the typical fruit tree grows around 13-24 inches per year, although there are some exceptions among different species and varieties.

According to information from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, standard size fruit trees generally reach heights of 25-30ft tall, while trees with dwarf rootstock typically only grow 10-15ft tall.

In addition to this above-ground growth, trees also exhibit root growth below the ground. With fruit trees, this can also be important to know, as you may want to monitor all of their growth so that you can keep them in check. 

What Kind Of Soil Do Fruit Trees Need?

Fruit trees usually want well-draining conditions, with sunnier days and cooler nights. 

With this, most people advise to, first of all, find a spot that is sunny during the day. On average, sunny spots are usually warmer, which most fruit trees also like. 

If the area is also cooler at night, this is a benefit, as fruit trees like to have cooler nights as compared to their days. In addition, fruit trees like well-draining soils, so planting on slopes or in the loose substrate can also help them to thrive. 

People advise against planting fruit trees in areas with valleys or compact soil. This is for a few reasons, the first of which is because those areas tend to accumulate and retain more water, which fruit trees don’t like. 

Another reason why people don’t plant fruit trees in those areas is that in the colder months, valleys can become a cooling sink, harshly dropping in temperature and causing risk for frost/cold damage. 

Picking The Best Fruit Tree Variety

Variety is another thing to keep in mind with fruit trees. Not only are there hundreds of types of fruit trees, but there are also countless varieties for each type of fruit tree, making them very versatile and adaptable to many areas. 

With this, you can use these facts to your advantage to pick a tree that will work best for you and your environment. 

To start, you should pick a tree that bears a fruit that you like. It is also slightly important to pick a fruit that is suited for your area (although this isn’t entirely necessary as varieties can be suited for different areas). 

After you find a specific type of fruit tree you would like to grow, you can then look into different varieties of that tree. 

Different varieties of the same tree will yield different results, from different sized trees to different tasting fruit, so have fun and pick what sounds interesting/fun to grow!

Benefits Of Having Shallow Rooted Fruit Trees

While it may be clear that shallow roots are a “good thing”, people rarely discuss why shallow roots can be beneficial to your garden/yard.

According to Colorado State University Extension, fruit tree roots typically grow and stay within the top 6-24in of soil underneath the tree. On rare occasions, the roots can deeper (3-7ft) if the soil allows.

To start, having shallow roots allows for each plant to have a larger area of absorption. When plants don’t grow very deep roots, they tend to grow more shallow, yet wider-spread roots. With this, having shallow roots can make it easier to water/feed your trees, and can even make them more stable in the ground. 

Another reason to have shallower roots in trees is for companion planting. With shallow roots, more plants can be grown in one area being interconnected, actually forming underground connections with each other and supporting each other.

It depends on what kind of companion plants you use next to your tree, but it needs to a light nutrient required plant or flower that won’t take too many nutrients from the tree.

Next, a big benefit to having shallow roots has to do with damage.

On average, trees that form larger, deeper roots can tend to pose a risk for things like buildings and waterlines. With this, having trees with shallower roots mitigates this risk, while still giving you the benefits of having a tree in the first place. 

Lastly, another benefit to having shallow roots is that you can easily grow them in pots.

For most trees with larger tap roots, they can be difficult in pots as they can either damage the pot or become stunted. In comparison, growing shallow-rooted trees in pots can be easy, and in some cases even more effective than growing them in the ground.

6 Fruit Trees That Have Shallow Roots: Identification Guide 

Now that we have discussed what shallow roots are, why they are beneficial, and how they relate to fruit trees, we can now look at specific examples of fruit trees that have non-invasion roots!

One last quick note, another benefit of having shallow roots is that you can grow a few of these trees below inside due to less soil requirements! Growing many of the trees below inside should work quite well if they’re given the proper care and attention.

If you’re interested, you can also read our piece on the best fruit trees for rocky soil here.

Pawpaw Trees

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While this may not be the most apparent option, pawpaw trees are a great example of fruit trees with shallow roots. Pawpaw trees tend to grow rapidly and strongly, also making them great for home gardeners. 

Pawpaws have a large area where they can grow, however in the US, they are fairly hardy to zones 5-8, which covers most of the pacific northwest and pacific southwest. Additionally, pawpaws grow well in the midwestern, southwestern, and south eastern United States.

So, basically, pawpaws grow well anywhere except for the northern hemisphere of the United States.

In addition to this, pawpaw trees are also fairly unique and bear a delicious fruit that allows people in the northern hemisphere to grow something “semi-tropical” in appearance and flavor. 

Dwarf Orange & Dwarf Citrus Trees

Clementine mandarin orange tree indoors

On this list, there are a lot of dwarf species because they tend to grow slower/smaller. With this, dwarf oranges (or another citrus), are another great option for shallow-rooted trees to add to your garden. 

To explain the “dwarf-tree” phenomena, in most cases, it is simply a regular tree (such as an orange) that is grated onto the rootstock of a smaller/shallower growing tree. This allows the tree to look and bear fruit like a large tree, with the size and ease of smaller trees. 

To identify, dwarf orange trees look very simple, with large, regular-shaped, deep green leaves. Like most citrus, dwarf oranges create simple yet elegant white flowers that come with a strong scent. 

Due to the nature of dwarf trees, growing they do allow you to use pots, as they are small and the root system should have no trouble growing in a medium-large container indoors.

One downside to growing dwarf citrus trees is that they do have specific requirements for things like soil/heat, so you may not be able to grow them in your area (or may have to take special care with them).

Again, I really like these. Outside, dwarf orange trees typically grow best in warmer, humid climates, but they can be grown almost anywhere indoors!

Lemon Trees

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Unlike some other citrus trees, lemon trees tend to be fairly non-invasive root systems on their own. This means that you should be able to find almost any lemon tree and not have to worry about it growing large invasive roots. 

Just like other citrus, lemon trees have simple dark green (and leathery) leaves and create strong-smelling white flowers that turn into fruit. 

Due to these characteristics, many people opt to grow lemon trees in containers on their patio. This is an especially great option if you live somewhere colder, as lemon trees tend to prefer warmer environments like the pacific northwest.

It’s also common to see lemon trees grown indoors. In-fact, my mom likes to grow one of these inside each year!

Lemons are also a great option as they create a fruit that is widely appreciated, yet versatile. By this, I mean having a lemon tree could save you money from buying at the store, while supplying you with enough to make things like lemonade, lemon tarts, lemon muffins, etc. 

Dwarf Cherry Trees

Red ripe cherry berries prunus subg. Cerasus on tree in summer vegetable garden.

Similar to the dwarf option of citrus trees, cherries can also come in dwarf varieties, which give you the benefit of fruit without the hassle of large-tree upkeep. 

Dwarf cherry trees tend to grow only 12-15 feet high and wide (although some can come smaller/larger), making them great for smaller areas (especially if you are interested in pruning them back regularly). In addition, cherry trees create thin, simple green leaves, along with beautiful small flowers that have a sweet scent. 

Another benefit to growing dwarf cherry trees is that they can withstand a lot of weather conditions. With dwarf varieties, most people cite that they can withstand temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, making them more widely plantable in the U.S as compared to citrus.

Many people also site that dwarf cherry trees produce a load of fruit in a fraction of the space, making them a great option for people who want to produce a lot in small areas. 

Apple Trees

Red apples on apple tree branch

Being one of the most popular fruit trees, some specific varieties of apple trees can grow shallow roots. In most cases, these are heirloom varieties, like golden delicious, granny smith, and mcintosh apple trees. This meaning they have developed long ago and have been passed down from generation to generation. 

Even better, apple trees can grow in any non-tropical climate!

Most apple trees produce simple (thin) green leaves that fill the tree. They also tend to lose their leaves in fall, regrowing them (along with beautiful flowers) back in the spring, later producing fruit that bears in fall. 

One benefit to apple trees is that most varieties (heirloom, rootstock, regular, etc.) tend to not grow invasive roots in the first place. This is a great feature, as it makes them fairly accessible, as you can find one in almost any garden store in the spring/summer months. 

With this, apple trees normally do like to spread out though, so unless you regularly prune, they may not be the best option for smaller growing areas. This however can be combatted by buying and maintaining columnar varieties, that grow along a fence or straight upward. 

Similar to cherry trees, apple tree varieties are used to colder growing areas, making them more versatile and perfect for growing locations in the northern hemisphere. 

Plum Trees 

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Plum trees are another great and common option that tends to not grow invasive/deep roots. In addition, you can normally find them in many varieties, including dwarf selections.

While they can’t withstand freezing temperatures, plum trees can withstand pretty cold ones. Plum trees grow best in zones 3-10, which you can view where those are on the USDA Hardiness Zone Map here.

Plum trees also grow simple green leaves and fragrant flowers, bearing very fleshy fruit. 

According to some people, plum trees can be problematic in the way they grow above ground, commonly/frequently needing trimmings to keep them from overgrowing an area.

However, properly pruning a tree is an important step in maintaining any fruit tree you have.

Great Tools For Maintaining Fruit Trees

With all of this information, it is important that you successfully maintain your shallow-rooted fruit tree, as they can come with some more care guidelines as compared to other trees. 

Watering/Caring For Fruit Trees

After you pick out what tree you specifically want, it is important to fully care for and meet all of its needs. This usually means finding out what it likes, such as its preferred temperatures, soil moisture, soil nutrients, etc. 

After finding out this information, you should be adequately suited to care for your tree in all of the specific ways it needs. With this, most trees tend to need occasional watering, trimming, fertilizing, etc. 

Fertilizing Your Trees

While fertilizing isn’t required, it can help with the growth and health of your tree (especially if it is potted). There are many options such as compost, organic, etc, however, some great options (depending on your specific tree), include the Miracle-Gro Citrus, Mango, Avocado fertilizer, and the Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Plant Food.

Remember to always read the packaging (or home guidelines) for your fertilizer so you don’t overfertilize/burn the roots of your tree! 

Trimming Your Fruit Trees

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Trimming can be another important factor with your trees, and you should look into what your specific fruit tree wants/needs in terms of trimming. 

With this, most trees do benefit from occasional trimming and pruning, especially with dead or diseased branches. In most cases, pruning trees (and plants for that matter) can increase growth, increase health, and even increase fruit production! 

One great example of a tool suited for trimming smaller fruit trees is the TABOR TOOLS Bypass Lobber.

For instance, you should always trim apple trees and thin out their branches. Additionally, there’s a process of thinning apple trees called, well, “thinning” where you remove excess apples that grow in bunches and weigh down on the tree.

When this happens, the result actually allows the apple fruit to grow better and get all the nutrients that the branch has to offer, leading to a better and more nutritious fruit overall.

That’s A Wrap!

In the end, there are many reasons why shallow-rooted fruit trees are beneficial to your yard, which include creating beneficial plant relationships and maintaining safety around your home. 

With this, there are many great options for shallow-rooted fruit trees such as pawpaws, dwarf citrus, or apple trees. Each of these come with their specs, benefits, and drawbacks, so you should find what would work best for you! 

After you pick your tree, make sure to maintain it with proper care such as fertilizing, watering, trimming, etc. And remember, in the end, the most important thing is to connect and have fun with your tree! 

References

Atkinson, C., & Else, M. (2001). Understanding how rootstocks dwarf fruit trees. Compact Fruit Tree34(2), 46-49.

Faust, M., & Zagaja, S. W. (1983, July). Prospects for developing low vigor fruit tree cultivars. In International Workshop on Controlling Vigor in Fruit Trees 146 (pp. 21-30).

Waugh, F. A. (2018). Dwarf fruit trees. BoD–Books on Demand.

Rogers, W. S., & Booth, G. A. (1959). The roots of fruit trees. Scientific Horticulture14, 27-34.

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