Shallow-rooted shrubs make special demands on the location in the garden and the care. This guide explains in a practice-oriented and comprehensible way what is behind the term flat root. Benefit from useful tips about expert planting and care. Here, explore 15 shallow-rooted trees and shrubs that will brighten up your garden.
Shallow root – definition with explanations
Shallow roots are trees and shrubs whose roots extend into the upper layers of the soil. A radiating, radial spread with the shoot axis as the center is characteristic. The special advantage of a flat and extensive root system is the effective stabilization of loose, slippery soil.
In contrast to deep-rooted plants, the roots do not reach the groundwater or infiltrated rainwater, which can quickly lead to drought stress for shallow-rooted plants in summer. Root growth just below the surface of the earth is associated with an increased risk of windthrow, because there is no vertical taproot to provide stability. Over the years, the roots expand in all directions in search of nutrients and water. If there are paved areas or walls within the root disc, damage cannot be ruled out. At the same time, the growth in thickness causes shallow roots on older trees and shrubs to protrude from the ground. This makes tillage more difficult and often makes decorative underplanting impossible.
The creative garden design should therefore include whether the planned trees and shrubs are shallow-rooted or deep-rooted. In view of the many disadvantages, it does not make sense to delete all flat-rooted plants from the planting plan from the outset. As the following list demonstrates, many popular and ornamental shrubs thrive with shallow root systems.
Shallow roots from A to Z
Maple, Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)
The large maple family gives us colorful and shapely deciduous trees for the garden with Japanese ornamental maples. Asian Japanese maple serves as the progenitor for popular varieties such as ‘Atropurpureum’ or slotted maple ‘Garnet’. The small tree or opulent shrub is equipped with a shallow root system that is much wider than it is deep. The most important premise for an informed choice of location is a combination of a wind-protected location and deep soil quality without compaction or the risk of waterlogging.
- Growth height: 150 to 400 cm
- special feature: deeply slit, fan-shaped leaves with vibrant autumn colours
Evergreen barberries are useful as a thorn-reinforced privacy hedge or inspire with a pillow-like habit as a decorative ground cover. Golden-yellow flowers in May and June round off the picturesque appearance in a colorful way. The cultivation of majestic varieties as a solitaire requires a wind-protected location, because the shallow-rooted deciduous shrubs have little resistance to autumn storms.
- Growth height: 80 to 300 cm (depending on the type and variety)
- special feature: valuable bird protection tree and nutritious bee pasture
Douglasie, Douglasfichte (Pseudotsuga menziesii viridis)
Originally settled in North America, the Douglas fir is now a familiar sight in our forests. The robust and long-lived conifer grows comparatively quickly at up to 40 centimeters a year. The flat-rooted Douglas fir is very popular with creative gardeners for cultivation as a house tree in a spacious park. The Douglas fir is particularly recommended because over the years it will add a few deep root strands to its shallow, expansive roots, provided the soil conditions allow it.
- Growth height: 30 to 40 meters
- special feature: a pleasantly scented conifer for large gardens
Alder, red alder, white alder (Alnus)
Are you on the lookout for a decorative ground fastener for the natural garden? Then we would like to recommend the local alder to you. The flat-rooted tree makes no demands on the quality of the soil, because the deciduous tree thrives reliably in sandy-dry to moist soil.
- Growth height: 8 to 15 meters (red alder up to 30 meters)
- special features: reliable pioneer tree, valuable bird and insect plant
When a majestic shrub wraps itself in a cloak of white starry blossoms in April, the pear celebrates its opulent flowering period. The good-natured pruning tolerance of native and immigrant Amelanchier species also allows uncomplicated training to become a picturesque standard. As long as you plant service pear trees in a wind-protected location, the ornamental and fruit trees will prove to be a rock in the surf despite their flat roots.
- Growth height: 250 to 600 centimeters
- special feature: edible berries in autumn
Evergreen spruces characterize the garden all year round. From the elegant sugar loaf spruce for the small garden to the imposing Serbian spruce, there is a colorful range of decorative species and varieties. Regardless of variable growth, the hardy conifers thrive as shallow roots.
- Growth height: 300 to 3000 centimeters (depending on the type and variety)
- special feature: reliably frost hardy and drought resistant
Forsythia, Goldglöckchen (Forsythia)
With a forsythia, the epitome of spring finds its way into your garden. Thanks to a wide variety of varieties, the bright yellow flower fairy tale shines in small and large areas. No gardener would think of doing without the picturesque bell-shaped flowers because it is a flat-rooted plant. A wind-protected location in a sunny location is sufficient to properly take into account the growth characteristics.
- Growth height: 100 to 300 centimeters
- special feature: very well tolerated by cuts
harlequin willow (Salix integra’Hakuro Nishiki’)
The diverse genus of willows gives us one of the most beautiful high stems for the imaginative front garden with a variegated premium variety. A harlequin willow inspires with pink-white-green ornamental leaves that sprout on reddish to yellowish branches. The crown of leaves is picturesquely enthroned on a short trunk. The floral splendor is refined on a robust flat root as a base.
- Growth height: 150 to 300 centimeters
- special feature: the harder the pruning, the more colorful the leaves
Honeysuckle, Honeyberry (Lonicera)
In the large repertoire of the honeysuckle genus, various species thrive as shallow roots. This includes the common honeysuckle (Lonicera xylosteum), which has made a name for itself as one of the easiest hedge plants to care for. If you don’t value the privacy factor, choose the easy-care honeyberry (Lonicera kamtschatica ‘Blue Velvet’), which has fruity berries in May and June.
- Growth height: 150 to 300 centimeters (depending on the type and variety)
- special feature: sparsely hairy shoots optimize reliable frost resistance
Ball and plate hydrangeas spread a nostalgic flair in romantic country house and cottage gardens. Innovative varieties such as ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Forever & Ever’ integrate effortlessly into modern garden design and bloom tirelessly from summer until well into autumn. Appearance, flowering time and cut compatibility are subject to striking differences. The flowering shrubs pull together in terms of the root system, because they are all created as shallow roots.
- Growth height: 100 to 250 centimeters (climbing hydrangea up to 600 centimeters)
- special feature: white-flowering varieties turn blue with special fertilizer
Kornelkirsche (Cornus mas)
In the natural garden, the cornel should not be missing. From the end of February, the native wood announces the approaching spring with bright yellow flowers. Bee and bumblebee queens appreciate the early food source very much when they devote themselves to the exhausting colony formation. From August, the flat-rooted plant has vitamin-rich, bright red berries ready for gardeners and birds.
- Growth height: 300 to 500 centimeters
- special feature: ideal for free-growing natural hedges with privacy protection
Tree of Life (Thuja)
One of the most common coniferous trees in private gardens thrives as shallow roots. Trees of life are very popular as evergreen, easy-care hedge plants and decorative topiaries. If a gardener knows how to cut artistically, a thuja will decorate the garden as a sphere, pyramid or imaginative sculpture.
- Growth height: 50 to 100 centimeters (dwarf varieties), 200 to 1000 centimeters (pure species and hedge varieties)
- special feature: tolerates pruning well, as long as pruning is carried out in the green-needled area
Just the mention of her name makes gardeners’ eyes shine. With inimitable elegance, the magnolia transforms the spring garden into a sea of blossoms. Star magnolia, tulip magnolia, tree magnolia and purple magnolia enchant with individual attributes and all want a protected location. This is not surprising, because as flat-rooted trees and shrubs are threatened by windthrow.
- Growth height: 150 to 500 centimeters
- special feature: has an aversion to pruning
Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii)
With huge panicles of flowers, a summer lilac magically attracts butterflies. The violet to crimson blossom festival lasts from July until the first frost and is also a popular destination for bees and bumblebees. In the small garden, dwarf varieties ensure a good mood. Where space permits, butterfly bushes gather in loose tuff or form a free-growing flowering hedge. The fact that the popular shrubs thrive as shallow roots is not an exclusion criterion. As long as the situation is not particularly windy, shallow-rooted buddleia will not cause your gardener a headache.
- Growth height: 150 to 300 centimeters
- special feature: vigorous pruning in spring optimizes the abundance of flowers
Zwergspiere (Spiraea japonica)
Is your rock garden and gravel bed still missing an easy-care splash of color? Then the dwarf spar comes into play. The shallow-rooted small shrub scores with colorful summer flowers and densely bushy foliage. Incidentally, with pebbles or grit as mulch, you give the flat-rooted plant additional stability. Premium varieties, such as ‘Shirobana’, cheerfully change their flower colors from white to pink to blue-red. The magnificent ‘Golden Princess’ variety boasts golden yellow leaves and likes to decorate the sunny front garden bed or frame the resting place in a representative way.
- Growth height: 40 to 50 centimeters
- special feature: extremely well tolerated by cuts
Root barrier keeps spread in check
The selection above illustrates that some of the finest trees and shrubs are shallow rooters. When planting, do you worry that expansive root strands could lift pavement or damage walls? Then you can effectively prevent destructive growth by planting shallow-rooted shrubs with a root barrier. Line the planting pit with the impenetrable geotextile. The top edge should protrude 5 to 10 centimeters from the ground. In this way you prevent vigorous roots from overcoming the barrier above ground.
Protect shallow roots from drought stress
An adequate water supply is essential so that shallow-rooted trees and shrubs survive a dry summer undamaged. Water plentifully and regularly when heavy rain showers fail as a natural water source. However, the water hose should run for at least 30 minutes on flat-rooted plants with a standard dimension, such as Douglas fir or spruce, in order to cover the current water requirement.