What happens if you plant trees too close together

Landscaping your home garden is hard work but generally very rewarding. Coming up with a plan prior to starting your gardening journey will ensure proper placement of trees, shrubs, and other plants. It is possible to plant trees too close together. It can cause a battle for resources and space. If you’re planting more than one tree in your yard—as most homeowners do—you will need to ensure ample space is left between them.

Garden trees
Apple and plum trees

So how do you determine how much space is needed? Below are some pointers on making sure you allow enough space for your saplings to thrive.

When you plant trees together, they require plenty of space to spread their branches above and roots below.  A number of problems arise if you plant trees too close together.

Battle for nutrients

Soil contains a limited amount of nutrients. Trees need to absorb these nutrients to grow strong.  When trees are planted too close together, they end up in a battle for survival.  Having trees that are nutrient-deficient means you need to supplement the soil with extra fertilisers to help them grow, which still doesn’t guarantee their survival.

It’s best if you’re able to plan ahead and leave enough room between each tree when planting.  Nutrient deficiencies can cause long-term problems, such as trees that are unable to grow properly, are unable to produce fruits or flowers, or have weakened branches and yellow leaves.

Sunlight requirements

Having trees packed together creates a canopy of leaves above that blocks sunlight, causing both trees and the plant life below to work extra hard to try to reach the sunlight they need.  This leaves no energy for flower production or fruiting.  It also makes trees weaker, and you might notice a strange growth pattern since they are branching out in all directions, trying to find some sunlight.

Garden trees
Cherry tree

Smaller trees will be left with no sunlight at all, and the grass and any plant life below can die off due to lack of sun. Having trees spaced out will allow for sunlight to reach the tree trunks, and smaller trees will have access to sunlight to grow strong.

Importance of water

Trees will also compete for water when planted tightly together.  Especially in arid conditions, trees need to be spaced far enough apart for there to be enough soil moisture to support each tree’s growth.  When trees are spaced in proximity, there may not be enough moisture to spread to all the trees.


Infestations and disease

When trees are planted too close together, the lack of air circulation can cause mold and mildew to form on trees.  If the branches and leaves are close enough to touch neighbouring trees, the mold and mildew can spread between trees.

Weakened trees are also more susceptible to infestations of tree mites, aphids, and other pests.  As with disease, if trees are touching, pests will be able to spread between them more easily.

Importance of creating a sunny garden

Part of the joy of having a yard is the ability to sit outside and enjoy the space, soaking up some sun rays and enjoying the breeze.  When trees are planted so close together that the entire yard is in constant shade, this can make your yard a dark, mildew-ridden, dreary place to spend time.

sunny garden

Mold can grow more quickly on patio furniture and pathways without sunlight and air circulation, making the patio upkeep more labor-intensive.  Plants and grass will struggle to survive without access to the sun.  By spacing out your trees and allowing the sunlight to penetrate the canopy above, your yard will be a more welcoming place to enjoy spending time.

Tree spacing

So how much space should be left between trees? Well, the answer depends on the type of trees being planted.  Smaller trees, such as dogwoods or sumac trees, require less space than larger varieties, such as redwoods and walnut trees. Here are some examples:

Fully grown tree sizeExample speciesDistance from other trees
Small – 6′ – 20′Plum, Japanese Maple, Dogwood, Cherries, Peaches, Hawthorn, Rowans, Crab Apple5′ – 12′
Medium – 20′ – 40′Eastern Redbud, Saucer Magnolia, Golden Chain, Mimosa, Dwarf Alberta Spruce, Japanese Stewartia12′ – 30′
Large – 40′ – 60′White Horse Chestnut, Sapporo Elm, Golden Alder, Sweet Chestnut, Hornbeam, Greenspire Lime30′ – 50′
Very large – 60′ and aboveDouglas Fir, Common Alder, Western Red Cedar, Standard Horse Chestnut, Kaiser Lime, Maidenhair40′ – 50′

Smaller trees are considered trees that grow up to 20 feet in height.  These trees require approximately 6 to 12 feet of spacing.  Medium trees, such as hemlock and blue spruce, grow to be between 30 and 70 feet.  These trees require 30 to 40 feet of spacing.  Large trees are considered to grow up to 70 feet or more.  Large trees require at least 40 to 50 feet of spacing. Find more information on plant and tree sizes on the Gardens World website.

Tree removal

If you’re already dealing with mature trees that are too close together, you can decide to remove some of the trees in order to provide a better chance of survival for the remaining trees.  By removing the trees that aren’t thriving, and others if more space is needed, you can ensure a better survival rate for the rest of your trees.  This will provide your yard with more sunlight and better air circulation.  The remaining trees will have more access to nutrient-rich soil and abundant water, instead of having to fight for whatever they can get.  If you can remove or transplant some of the trees while they’re still young, it’s easier and more cost-effective.

Contact Mr. Tree for assistance with your tree removal.  They can help decide which trees are the best to remove and safely thin the number of trees in your yard to a manageable and healthy number.

If you’re considering planting trees in your yard, be sure to create a plan prior to planting.  There are many smaller versions of larger tree varieties available if you’re landscaping a smaller space.  Don’t forget to review the tree spacing guide, then consider what the mature size of the tree will be.  Once the mature size of the tree is determined, be sure to leave ample room between saplings to ensure a healthy and thriving yard for years to come.

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