How large are root systems

I have always heard that root systems for trees, in general, extend to around the drip line. When it comes to peaches, apples, cherries, plums is this a fair approximation?

The question came about, as I’m to plan out both how far my mulching will extend from the trunk, as well as irrigation. I see part of the mulching’s benefit to slow down the wake-up of the tree in the spring, given I live in an area with regular late, intermittent frosts.

Here are some good pictures. This is a dwarfing rootstock - M9 is mentioned in the other pictures.


Wow, that is a great illustration and lesson! It makes me wonder how much value a small mulch ring around the tree benefits the tree (obviously some distance is good for bugs, etc).

I live in an area with heavy clay soil. From my limited experience the roots do not extend to the drip line on peach trees in most cases. My trees may be an exception due to the clay. As far as mulching goes I do not mulch on young peach trees in most cases - if I do mulch it is to control weeds… Mulch can take nutrients out of the soil before returning them - I am likely outspoken on not mulching young peach trees. When I do mulch I mulch to the edge of the canopy. I would like to think my trees had root systems like the pic Levers posted. Why do you believe mulch delays the wake up the trees (you may be right I am not familiar with this).

That is the most useful image on roots - what a wealth of information! Interesting how wide, but shallow, the roots are. This certainly explains why one should never cultivate too deeply, and also why trees can be so susceptible to materials applied to the soil (both good and bad).

Yes, I think there are other excavations like this from East Malling Research Station in black and white from the 50’s or 60’s but I can’t find them.

I also thing that the wide/shallow rooting is a bit species and rootstock dependent. Two years ago I had temporarily planted some peaches, apples, and U of Saskatchewan cherries while moving, and moved the trees a year later. The apples were easiest to dig out and had shallower roots. the U of Sask cherries had essentially a planiform root system about 2-4" deep, but I think I might recall there being “striker roots” going straight down from the lateral roots on those. And the peaches… well I had to really dig and dig for the peaches. This was sandy soil and I feel like the peaches really send out deep roots that went down compared to the other trees. Of course the peaches really loved that soil and are fast growers so they certainly had the biggest root system too.

Nothing scientific, of course, but there were definitely differences. The Romeo/Juliet cherries from U of Sask were clearly quite shallow rooted.