Do Magnolia Tree Roots Cause Problems? What To Be Aware Of

Gardeners and homeowners often choose the magnolia tree as a favorite due to its glossy green leaves and beautiful flowers.

However, concerns often arise regarding the potential hazards posed by the root system of this tree.

Do magnolia tree roots cause problems?

Yes, like many tree roots, magnolia tree roots can cause complications, especially if planted too close to structures or other plants, but this is unlikely as the roots are not very aggressive. They potentially can damage foundations, sidewalks, and pipes if planted in inappropriate locations.

Let’s take a closer look at magnolia tree roots, their degree of aggressiveness, the potential for damage, planting guidelines, and control solutions so that you rest easy knowing that damage is unlikely.

Key Takeaways

  • Magnolia tree roots grow horizontally and can spread out significantly, potentially causing damage.
  • Different species of magnolia have varying root growth patterns.
  • Plant magnolia trees at least 20 to 25 feet away from houses to avoid potential root-related issues.
  • Root barriers and proper planting techniques can mitigate potential problems.

If you’re a home gardener with questions about your magnolia trees, don’t worry… you’re not alone. Find all the answers you need in my comprehensive guide, Magnolia Tree Questions. Be sure to read it today!

How Magnolia Tree Roots Grow

The roots of the magnolia tree grow horizontally rather than vertically. This is characteristic of many magnolia species, especially the large magnolia trees.

They can spread out, often covering an area up to four times the width of the tree canopy.

As the tree grows, so does its root system, with roots potentially reaching out as far as 80 feet from the trunk of the magnolia tree.

Are Magnolia Roots Invasive?

While magnolia roots are not known to be particularly invasive, they are expansive. This means that while they might not aggressively take over an area, they still require space.

Their rope-like roots can extend far from the trunk of the tree and can interfere with other plants or structures around a home.

Will Magnolia Tree Roots Damage Pipes?

It’s a common concern that the roots of magnolia trees may wrap around pipes, seeking moisture. If a pipe has a small leak, roots may be drawn to it, causing further damage.

Though magnolia roots are not as aggressive as some tree roots, the risk is still present.

However, the risk of damage to intact pipes is quite low because the roots do not grow aggressively and are softer in nature than those of other trees.

Will Magnolia Tree Roots Damage House Foundation?

Magnolia tree roots can cause cracks in the foundation of homes if planted too close.

The roots grow horizontally and, as they expand, they can exert pressure on the house foundation, potentially leading to foundation problems.

The more likely scenario, however, is roots that invade pre-existing cracks, causing them to become worse.

Aggressiveness of Magnolia Tree Roots

While not as aggressive as some tree root systems, magnolia roots can still pose problems if not managed properly.

The large magnolia tree root mass can displace soil and other structures, especially as the tree matures.

The key is planting the tree in an ideal location with plenty of room for growth. This will eliminate the potential for future problems.

Factors Influencing Magnolia Root Growth

The growth pattern of magnolia tree roots is influenced by several factors:

Magnolia Variety

Different species of magnolia can have varying root systems.

The Southern magnolia, known for its massive white flowers and evergreen leaves, has a different root profile than the smaller Saucer magnolia, which blooms with pink or purple flowers.

The root system of a large magnolia tree, such as the Southern magnolia, is more expansive than that of smaller species.

Hence, when you plant trees of different magnolia varieties, it’s important to be aware of the specific type of tree you’re dealing with.

Growing Conditions

The growing conditions surrounding the magnolia tree significantly influence the manner and rate of root growth. Here’s how:

Soil Composition

Magnolias thrive in loamy soil. If the ground is extremely dry or too clayey, the tree roots prefer to grow horizontally rather than vertically, looking for moisture or a less compact layer to penetrate.

Watering Patterns

Magnolia trees love a lot of water, especially when young. If the roots do not receive consistent moisture, they tend to grow closer to the surface, where they can access rainwater more easily.

However, overwatering or planting the tree in areas with poor drainage can lead to root rot.


A magnolia tree planted in a cramped location might experience restricted root growth due to obstacles.

The tree may respond by pushing surface roots, which are more visible and can sometimes interfere with landscaping around the tree or cause cracks in the foundation of nearby structures.


While magnolia trees can grow in partial shade, they thrive in full sun. The amount of sunlight the tree receives can influence its overall health, affecting both its above-ground and below-ground growth.

For instance, a magnolia deprived of sunlight may not grow to its full potential, and its root system might not be as expansive or deep as one that receives adequate light.

Potential for Damage

While magnolias are beautiful and iconic trees, understanding and considering their growth habits is essential for ensuring they coexist harmoniously in your landscape.

As with any large tree planted near structures, there’s potential for damage:

Damage to Foundations & Structures

The roots of the magnolia tree are strong and persistent. In their quest for nutrients and water, they can cause damage to foundations if they find a weak spot or crack to exploit.

As the tree matures, the expanding roots can widen these gaps, leading to foundation problems.

To avoid this, always plant magnolia trees at least 20 feet away from home foundations.

Lifting of Sidewalks and Driveways

Magnolia tree roots grow primarily horizontally, and as they expand, they can push up against and lift sidewalks, driveways, and other solid surfaces.

The surface roots, while not overly aggressive, can still exert considerable force over time.

If a magnolia is planted too close to a sidewalk or driveway, it might be necessary to prune or cut the root to prevent damage.

Interference & Competition With Other Plants

Magnolia roots tend to draw water away from home foundations and other plants.

The extensive root system of a magnolia tree can make it challenging for other plants nearby to get their share of nutrients and water.

Smaller plants or those with shallower roots may find it difficult to compete.

Therefore, it’s essential to plan your landscaping around the tree, considering the needs of both the magnolia and any neighboring plants.

Damage to Underground Utilities

The roots of magnolia trees are not known to be particularly invasive, but they can still cause problems if they grow too close to underground utilities.

They might wrap around or invade pipes, septic systems, or other infrastructure, potentially causing breaks or blockages over time.

How Far Should a Magnolia Tree Be From a House?

Determining the right distance to plant a magnolia tree from a house is vital. As mentioned, magnolia roots grow primarily horizontally rather than vertically.

For large magnolia species, such as the Southern magnolia, which can grow up to 80 feet tall, you should consider the spread of its canopy. The largest roots will typically be found in the outer ring of the tree canopy.

Ideally, magnolia trees should be planted 20 to 30 feet away from the house to ensure that roots do not cause cracks in the foundation or other structural problems.

Always gauge the potential height and width of the mature tree before planting, and if in doubt, err on the side of planting the tree further away from structures.

How To Contain Magnolia Root System

To minimize potential damage as the tree grows and to ensure the magnolia tree root system does not interfere with structures, you can take several proactive measures.

Installing root barriers can help direct magnolia roots deeper into the soil. These barriers are typically made from plastic or metal and are installed in the ground around the tree’s perimeter.

Consider planting grass or landscaping around the magnolia tree that can tolerate some root competition.

This not only beautifies the surroundings but also minimizes potential disputes between the tree and other plants.

Make it a habit to check for surface roots, especially in areas near sidewalks, driveways, or the house foundation.

Early detection can lead to simple solutions, like root pruning, before any real damage occurs.

How To Get Rid of Unwanted Magnolia Roots

When magnolia roots become a problem, several steps can be taken to mitigate their impact:

  • Identify Problematic Roots: Remove any roots that are too close to surfaces or structures, but be cautious not to damage more than 20% of the tree’s root system at once.
  • Cutting and Pruning: Use sharp tools to cut the root cleanly. After cutting, it’s best not to overfill the area but rather replace the top of each root with a layer of topsoil. This can prevent future growth from the pruned root end.
  • After-Care: Once you prune or cut the root, ensure you care for the tree to mitigate stress. Signs of stress can include yellowing leaves or excessive leaf dropping. Water the soil around the tree to keep it moist but avoid overwatering.

Related Questions:

Where Should You Not Plant a Magnolia Tree?

Avoid planting magnolia trees near underground utilities or in areas where their root system might interfere with sidewalks, driveways, or other structures.

Also, consider the potential height and canopy of the tree. You wouldn’t want to plant a large magnolia where it might block essential views or grow into overhead utility lines.

Should I Cut Down My Magnolia Tree?

Cutting down a magnolia tree should be the last resort. If it poses a severe risk to structures or if its roots are causing irreversible damage, you might consider this option.

However, before taking such a drastic measure, consult with an arborist or tree expert. They might offer alternative solutions that can save the tree and mitigate potential hazards.

Closing Thoughts

Magnolia trees, while beautiful, come with considerations regarding their expansive root system.

Proper planning and maintenance can help homeowners enjoy the beauty of the magnolia without the associated complications.

Now that you’re familiar with magnolia roots, learn how the tree measures up against another popular ornamental and whether or not magnolias produce fruit in these articles: