Indigenous landscaping & garden design
in Johannesburg & Pretoria, South Africa

Help! This tree is breaking my wall

  • Help! This tree is breaking my wall

    Trees are wonderful additions to our homes, but good selection and placement is important to prevent damage to our properties

    One of the benefits of being a landscaper is that you get to see firsthand how seemingly benign planting practices from the past can cause major problems to an owner’s property.

    One of the most common problems we encounter with regards to this is the planting of trees too close to a home, perimeter wall, or other hard structure such as a pool.

    When planting a tree, it's important to choose the correct position in which to plant it as it can be a difficult and costly process to transplant or remove incorrectly placed trees. In most cases, incorrectly planted trees will eventually cause damage to property, so the first step to countering this problem is to research your chosen tree and take into account its full-grown size, growth habits and aggressiveness of its root system.

    As an example, the picture below shows a tree aloe (Aloe barberae) planted next to a house to enhance the entrance. This is a magnificent sculptural plant that enhances modern architecture. It grows up to 18m tall and branches out to give a spread of between 4-8m.

    In this instance however, it was planted too close to the house and its branches are already squashed in the limited area. The trunk of this tree also swells with age and can grow to a diameter of 3m, which would then interfere with the house. In this case the homeowners should remove the tree - as it is still fairly young - and transplant it to a safer area.

    Sometimes though, gardeners aren’t responsible for choosing the position in which trees grow. In the picture below, an exotic Celtis (Celtis sinensis) has self-seeded itself in a sheltered position next to a house.

    The seed may have fallen from a neighbouring property, or, more likely, the seed was deposited in the droppings of a bird. The problem is not so much that the tree reseeded itself, but rather that the young sapling was not removed in time - weeds often find their way into gardens via bird droppings. In this case the tree was left to grow, and has now grown to a height of 4m and could very possibly be affecting the building’s foundation. For situations like this, contact a professional tree-feller and have the tree removed. Also ensure that the stump and large roots are removed as it is likely to send out new shoots if left.

    Several trees also have large surface roots that could damage structures or paving. In the picture below, the roots of a Silk Floss (Kapok) tree (Ceiba speciosa) on a verge have not only lifted the curb, but have also cracked the boundary wall.

    Again, this tree should be removed by a professional tree-feller, the curb re-laid, the wall repaired, and a new tree (with a non-aggressive root-system) planted.

    A final mention on removing and replacing trees: it is often a sad experience to remove a large tree from a property, but it is far better to save yourself the resultant costs of damage to property and to plant trees that will prove non-aggressive and just as effective in years to come.

    These are some of the trees we commonly see growing around Gauteng that self-seed next to walls and wan cause problems if not removed:

    • Celtis sinensis (Chinese stinkwood)
    • Jacaranda mimosifolia (Jacaranda, jakaranda)
    • Ligustrum lucidum (Chinese wax-leaved privet)
    • Melia azedarach (Syringa, sering boom)
    • Morus nigra (Black mulberry, swartmoerbei)
    • Solanum mauritianum (Bugweed, luisboom)
    • Tecoma stans (Yellowbells, geelklokkies)

    So, to sum up:

    • Always research the full-grown size of the tree you wish to plant and allow room for it to grow and form a natural shape to avoid having to trim or completely fell it at a later stage
    • Take into account the habits of the roots of your chosen tree
    • Consider whether you have allowed enough space for a swelling trunk

    For more information, read our Choosing a tree for your garden article, our Trees for small gardens article, or visit our website to browse and learn more about trees indigenous to Southern Africa.

    71 comments on “Help! This tree is breaking my wall”

    1. Please help can syringa trees roots course damage to my house and swimming pool
      My neighbors got lot in their yard close to my house very close to swimming pool thats already been damaged

      1. Hi Susan

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        Depending on the growing conditions, Melia azedarach (Syringa) can have aggressive root system. It would be best to have your property assessed by an arborist as well as a construction expert to determine whether this is the cause of your structural damage.


    2. Interesting and insightful article.

      How far can the following trees be safely planted away from a house and/or wall fence?

      1. Red Mahogany aka Khaya Anthotheca

      2. Jacaranda tree

      3. Flamboyant tree

      Thank you in advance.

      1. Hi Chibesa

        Thanks for visiting our site and your feedback.

        The trees you're asking about are considered large trees so best planted in larger gardens or parks.

        The recommended planting distances from any structures are as follows:
        - Khaya anthotheca (Red mahogany) - 6m
        - Jacaranda mimosifolia (Jacaranda) - 6m
        - Delonix regia (Flamboyant) - 5m

        Note that these are guidelines as growth will depend on the conditions at your location.


    3. Hi. Do I have the right to ask my neighbour to remove their Yuccas? Their one tree has broken through the bottom 2 slats in the corner of my vibracrete wall and they're threatening to break through other parts of the wall...they have yuccas planted all along our back border. Also they block out the sun, particularly in winter when the sun is lower. ?

      1. Hi Tracy

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        Depending on your relationship with your neighbour, you could ask them to remove their yuccas and show them the damage being caused. It's not always easy to reach an agreement as they may not have planted them and may not be aware of the damage.


      1. Hi Dottie

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        If the conditions are favourable, the tree may sprout new growth from the remaining roots. As the removal of the roots is a huge project, it's adviseable to monitor the area over the coming months and dig and chop out the roots if any growth appears.


      1. Hi Annelie

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        Celtis africana should not be planted less than 6m from any structure to help prevent possible damage as the tree matures.


    4. I found a root in my backyard. Its really big and I cant seem to tell where it starts or ends. its like its growing against my house and trying to find ways into the house. There are three trees in my diagnol neighbors backyard, but thats like 10 meters away, what should I do ??

      1. Hi Faiyaz

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        The roots are likely to be coming from your neighbour's property, but that will depend on the species of tree. A distance of 10m is not unusual for roots of large trees. You'd need to consult with a specialist to determine whether the roots could be affecting the structure of your house in order to determine what actions need to be taken.


          1. Hi Faiyaz

            You would probably require the services of at least two specialists:
            - a master builder and/or structural engineer to examine the structures; and
            - an arborist to inspect the tree and advise on the recommended actions.


    5. I have a mulberry tree that self-seeded next to my boundary wall. I am having it moved today. What distance should it be from my boundary wall and pool? Though it is only 2 years old, it is already 5m tall,

      1. Hi Beccy

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        Your mulberry seed was probably dropped by a bird.

        The tree should be planted no less than 6m from any structure and I'd recommend a position far from the pool as the fruit dropping into the pool will be quite bothersome.


        1. Hi Glenice ,

          I had roots problems with Ficus trees in my yard , I decided to remove them al in my yard. I replaced them with some Viburnum , and Red robin Shrubs . I find these very much easy to manage .



    6. Dear Glenice,

      There is a palm tree growing next to the boundary wall of my home in a sectional title. I have researched that it attracts lightning and it has already grown taller than my double storey home.

      There are creepers around the tree that make a mess and create a huge bushy area.

      Should the tree be removed?

      Kind Regards

      1. Hi Vicki

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        Without actually seeing the situation, it's impossible for us to make any recommendations.

        Perhaps contact a local arborist or landscaper for a consultation.


        1. Good day,
          I have a few witstinkhout trees growing about 3 meters from my home and pool - is that far enough given the problems with roots . It’s only about 1.5 m now

          1. Hi Graham

            Thanks for visiting our site.

            Celtis africana are considered large trees and it's recommended to plant them no less than 6m from any structure.

            As it sounds like your trees are still young, you may wish to reposition them to avoid possible issues later.


      2. Dear Glenice, It's all well if you have control about what will grow on your own property, but unfortunately having no control over my neighbour's planting trees like the lily pillies ( sort of a myrtle) on the borders all around my property. They drop "fruit" which the monkeys and birds will not touch. The seeds drop on my side of the fence en masse, and if I leave them on the ground they will form a dense carpet of alien baby trees, even on my lawn. I can't pick them all up. Once the little seedling is about 5 cm high, going by unnoticed, it had already formed a large taproot of 10 cm long.The leaves of these trees are like plastic, evergreen and composted not much, and let no winter sun through to my property Also on the other side of my half a yard, the neighbour planted a forest ficus benjamina, which formed an enormous side root from under the stonewall, cracking it, so my hand disappears into the crack, boring under my driveway fast en route to my other neighbour's garage. I have very little pleasure of my small property, trying to mitigate something which is out of my control. Asking them neighbourly and with my best, honest negotiating face on, helped nothing.

        1. Hi Eugenia

          Thanks for visiting our site.

          You've raised some very valid issues that are occur in many urban areas where vegetation and structures on neighbouring properties can affect the enjoyment of our spaces.

          Sadly, not all neighbours are willing to do something about the situation for various reasons. In such a case, relocation may be the best solution.


    7. i am considering planting fir trees next to my shared boundry wall, would this cause any damage to the wall at a later stage?

      1. Hi Leslie

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        Do perhaps you mean conifers? There are many species, so research the full-grown size of the species that you're considering as many may be too large for your space.


    8. Greetings from Cyprus, I would like to plant a jacaranda tree in our garden but am worrying about the space. How far from any buildings, walls, pavements, other trees and plants should it be placed?

      1. Hi Agnieszka

        Thanks for paying us a visit all the way from Cyprus!

        In South African conditions, it's not recommended to plant a jacaranda tree less than 6m from any structure.


    9. Hi Glenice,

      We have a large Yucca tree at the front of our house. It is about 5 metres high and 3 metres away from the house. It is beautiful but should we be concerned about the roots affecting the house foundations?

      Thank you,

      1. Hi Lisa

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        It seems like your Yucca is a safe distance away from your house. However, may be best to get a construction specialist in to investigate whether there is any damage being caused by it.


    10. Hi can you please tell me what is happening to my witstinkhout trees. The leaves are sticky and there is a black residue o under the trees, this seems to happen in winter when it drops its leaves. I ve also notice on the baby trees their trunks and branches are black? They have dropped all of their leaves.

      1. Hi Trish

        It sounds like you white stinkwood trees have an aphid infestation.

        It's not recommended to spray an insecticide as this may affect the ecosystem. Perhaps contact an arborist to examine your trees to determine the best course of action.


    11. Hi
      I have a jacaranda tree about 6m from my house. Could it be dangerous to my house at that distance

      1. Hi

        Thanks for vsiiting our site.

        The roots of Jacaranda mimosifolia (Jacaranda) are indeed aggressive and the recommended safe planting distance from any structure is 7m. However, if your tree is established, you may wish to first check the house for any signs of structural damage before going through the process of removing the tree.


    12. Hi Glenice

      Great article! Sad to see my syringa on the list of trees that could cause problems if not removed. The tree was here when we bought our house 14 months ago. The reason I found this article was because I was worried about the tree growing from about 3m to about 8m in that 14 months. It is mere centimeters from the house.

      It makes great shade and it is paved all around the tree, so there's not much chance of multiplying elsewhere. I'd rather keep it if possible, but I'm worried that the roots could cause problems. I couldn't find a lot of info in the roots of syringas and now I'm not sure if it is the type of tree that could cause structural danage later on. It is probably only around 2-3 years old now. Would you be able to advise on what you think I should do?

      Many thanks

      1. Hi Andre

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        The syringa tree (Melia azedarach) is very fast-growing with an aggressive root system that can cause structural damage. Your tree is still relatively young, but you could, in time, notice the paving cracking and lifting. The tree multiplies by seed dispersal. The fruit either falls to the ground or is transported by birds.


    13. Hi

      I have a white stinkwood tree in my garden in a flowerbed near the pool.Think about 8-10 years old when we bought the house. I is full of new green leaves but al of a sudden the leaves turn yellow. At this stage - nearly mid summer - my garden looks like autum with all the yellow leaves on the ground.
      I am living in Ellisras, Limpopo.

      1. Hi Marga

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        Your tree is displaying some unusual behaviour. I'm not sure what could cause such a sudden change in the middle of summer.

        Yellowing leaves is usually a sign of lack of water but could also be caused by too much water. Perhaps check that the pool isn't leaking.
        Also check your tree for
        - any signs of disease;
        - damage to the roots; or
        - contamination of the soil.


    14. Hi Glenice

      I have a very big avocado tree in my yard I was wondering if it could be the cause to the cracks in my house? The tree I believe has been here for at least 20 years, we only bought the house three years ago.


      1. Hi Nkateko

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        It is highly probable that the avocado may be causing the cracks in your house. However, I would recommend getting a building professional to examine the cracks to determine the cause and remedial actions necessary.


    15. We are looking to plant trees along the boundary wall in our garden (which is a small garden) in Pretoria East for privacy as well as one in the front garden for shade. Our neighbours have leopard trees along the shared wall, which we have heard concerns about regarding possibly interfering with the integrity of walls and such structures. Can you recommend other fast growing and appropriate trees we can consider.

      1. Hi Linda

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        Leopard trees are best to avoid for small gardens.

        Without knowing the size of your property and viewing the area, it is difficult to give a definitive list of trees to consider, but perhaps use the list on to help guide your decision. Also consider consulting with a local landscaper as you could receive valuable advice to avoid costly mistakes.


    16. Hi there. Very interesting site. We have a coral tree which we planted about 15 yrs ago. It initially died only to come back with vigour. It is about 10m tall now and has flowered beautifully for the last few years. The seedlings are popping out all over the place now. We recently cleared around it for the first time and noticed that it has rather large roots that are causing havoc with walls and foundations, and is very close to our water main and sewer. I assume there isnt much I can do except remove it. Will I be breaking any laws if I remove it? It is a screen tree as well. We are in gauteng. Any thoughts on a suitable replacement tree that will not cause the damage that we have exoerienced. Thank you.

      1. Hi Nigel

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        Coral trees have a very aggressive root system and we've noticed more vigorous growth in gardens which use irrigation system. If it is within your property, you can remove it without breaking any laws. If it is on your verge, you will need permission from the local parks authority.

        For a replacement, you could consider the following deciduous/semi-deciduous trees:

        - Dombeya rotundifolia (White pear)
        - Bolusanthus speciosus (Tree wisteria)
        - Terminalia phanerophlebia (Lebombo cluster-leaf)
        - Heteropyxis natalensis (Lavender tree) - semi-deciduous


    17. Hi Glenice. Thank you for the info above. We are in the process of moving house. Right in front of my daughter's bedroom window is a majestic tree aloe that is one of the main features of the garden. It also teems with nectar eating birds and its mature size really makes it spectacular. It is however planted very close to the house (I estimate the closest part of the stem to be about one to two metres away from the wall). There are also two main branches spreading over the roof. Will it be fine to keep the tree in view of its maturity or should we rather remove it? I am also worried about the odds hat one of the branches might break off and fall on the roof as it spreads over the area above my daughter's room?

      1. Hi Liezel

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        How fortunate for your daughter to have such a wonderful vantage point to observe the feeding frenzy that this tree attracts.

        It sounds like your tree is already quite mature and unlikely to cause any damage. However, I would advise you to arrange a site inspection with an expert for complete peace of mind.


    18. We have seven white stinkwood trees planted in pathways in our townhouse complex. Unfortunately, the root system is now visible on the surface and has caused considerable damage to the pathways. Can we rectify the root system or should the trees be removed?

      1. Hi Margaret

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        Sorry to hear about the damage the stinkwood trees are causing. Unfortunately there is no way of rectifying the root issue without removing the trees. You probably have the exotic stinkwood (Celtis sinensis) which has a more aggressive root system than the indigenous one. To avoid leaving your complex completely bare, consider removing the trees in phases or rather only the ones that pose the most risk.


      1. Hi So

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        You can prune back any branches that are interfering with your wall. Ideally, it is best to do this from your neighbour's side to shape the tree correctly.


    19. Good day
      I am seeking advise regarding a massive tree growing on my property.
      Firstly I would like to know if this is indigenous to Kzn and if I can fell this tree. Pls can I have a what’s app no to send u a pic of the tree to help identify it. The roots are starting to uplift my driveway pavers and is growing close to boundary walls. The tree is excessive huge and overhanging over my house, and I am concerned about the damage it could cause if it breaks. It is over 3 stories tall and has broad thick leaves. It has a sticky milky residue. Pls can u help identify it and advise on removal

      1. Hi Jammie

        It may be best to contact your local nursery, botanical garden or and arborist for an identification of the tree. The arborist will be able visit your property to assess whether the tree is a hazard and what course of action is required.

        All the best.

    20. Hi Glenice,

      I want to plant a avenue of Lombardy poplar(simonii) Will the root system be to aggressive? The avenue will end about 6m from my house. Are there any alternitives? I want to use it for screen and shadow. We live in Pretoria.

      Thank you


      1. Hi Mariette

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        It sounds like this will work for your screening. When planting, ensure that you leave at least 1m from the boundary wall so that the roots do not affect that structure.


    21. Hello
      I urgently need to plant big trees in our garden as the sun is killing us here in Limpopo. Any tree suggestions that I can plant?

      1. Hi Ilse

        Thanks for visiting our page.

        Your climate is Limpopo should allow you to plant a variety of species. The best is to look for fast-growing species commonly found in your area such as:

        - Vachellia karroo (Sweet thorn)
        - Combretum erythrophyllum (River bush-willow)
        - Sclerocarya birrer subsp. caffra (Marula)
        - Vepris lanceolata (White ironwood)
        - Kirkia acuminata (White syringa)


    22. Hi Glenice,

      I want to plant 2x silverbirch trees or lavender trees right up against my boundary wall. The space is quite tiny. I need height & privacy. The fussy neighbor has a pool on his side of the wall. Can this work?

      Lots of thanks

      1. Hi Jackie

        Thanks for visiting our page.

        It's not a wise move to plant trees right against your boundary wall as you miss the beauty of the trees as they'll be cramped by the wall; and the roots could, in time, interfere with the integrity of your wall.

        To create privacy in a narrow space, consider installing a trellis to raise the height of the wall with a dense creeper growing up it.


    23. Hi.
      I have a few trees along our boundary wall and wanted to find out if it may be the root systems of the 2 Jacaranda trees responsible for the breaking wall?
      And if so, would I just be able to cut the roots along that side? Or would the whole tree need to come down?

      Thanks for the help

      1. Hi Kara

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        The jacaranda roots may well be responsible for breaking the wall.

        Cutting the roots may cause your trees to become unstable and die or they may just topple over in a strong wind. You'd need to remove the entire tree with as much of the roots as possible.


    24. I want to plant a Jacaranda mimisifolia but cant find how wide the roots will grow? Please advise how far from house and septic I should grow this tree.

      1. Hi Craig

        Thanks for visiting our page.

        Jacaranda mimosifolia is listed as an invasive species in South Africa and it is illegal to plant new trees.

        Rather plant on of the following:
        Bolusanthus speciosus (Tree wisteria)
        Dais cotinifolia (Pompom tree)
        Erythrina lysistemon (Coral tree)
        Calodendrum capense (Cape chestnut)


    25. Please advise me. I have a leopard tree. One of three and one of them still have no leaves. This happened last summer. It only pushed leaves later in the season. As of now it still has no leaves. The tree is not dead.

      1. Hi Freda

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        As leopard trees Caesalpinia ferrea are not indigenous, they have a tendency to be temperamental under our climatic conditions which are different to that of it's native country, Brazil. Be patient and I'm sure you'll get leaves soon.


        1. Thanks for the advice. My Leopard tree has finally sprouted leaves. They're not lush and plentiful but I will give it another season and should this reoccur next spring,I'll consider replacing it.

          1. Hi Freda

            Great news!

            Sometimes plants react to the micro environment in which they've been planted and don't always behave as we think they should.


    26. I have a White Stinkwood. I love this tree with a passion. One of the reasons I bought my house!
      Unfortunately, I did not plant it! Planted by previous owners ...... it firstly ruined my rosebed and killed my roses! Just recently it has grown into my sewerage pipe and is probably heading into my foundations!
      Unfortunately, it will have to go. My beautiful, beautiful tree!! Shady in Summer and allows sun in Winter ..... but It seems I have no other option .... unless anyone has any suggestions??? The day it goes ..... I will go into DEEP mourning.
      Whoever planted it, planted it FAR too close to the house and it has only taken the damage to make me realise!

      1. Hi Jane

        Sorry about the damage and I hope you've made a decision.

        A tough lesson, but, yes, it is so important to consider the full-grown size of a tree before planting to avoid scenarios like yours.


    27. Hi
      I have 4 fever trees along the fence in my garden. The one closest to the house is the biggest.
      I noticed cracks on the walls of the house and my gardener said the big fever was the culprit.
      So we decided to cut it to reduce its size to half of what it was originally.
      Since the tree was naturally shedding at this time of the year (Feb) and had a lot of dried branches we decided to rid ourselves of most of the branches.
      What we now have is the trunk and at least 4-6 main branches left.
      I am feeling sad and also guilty. Since it was such a stand out feature of my house.
      I am hoping that it will shoot again and we are able to maintain a certain height of the tree by trimming over growth.
      Also we are thinking of digging the ground close to the house and cutting out/removing any roots that are hitting the foundation.

      Please advise.

      1. Hi Sadia

        Thanks for visiting our site.

        Fever trees are lovely trees but, as you've noticed, are large trees with an aggressive root system.

        I find that trees loose their beauty when they drastically trimmed as you describe. I'm not certain that this practice reduces the root growth. In fact, I believe that the converse may be true in that the plant responds to the stress by growing additional roots.

        If I was in your situation, I would remove the trees and replace them with a smaller species with a less aggressive root system. The roots will still grow back and you'll have to maintain a constant practice of cutting the trees back and repairing the resultant damage.

        Fever trees are prized for their attractive bark. Read our article on trees with unusual bark for some alternatives.


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