Poplar trees grow quickly and are usually inexpensive, but they have several potential drawbacks. Shallow, invasive roots, a propensity for disease and a short lifespan are just a few of this tree's liabilities. If you choose to plant poplars, place them well away from the house and plant other slow-growing trees that can take their place in a few years.
Although some of the poplar tree's roots may burrow into the earth, most of them lie 4 to 8 inches beneath the surface. As the poplar tree grows, and the roots become larger, they often emerge, creating bumps in the lawn or damaging sidewalks and patios. Solutions like covering them with soil, installing root guards or cutting the roots are rarely successful and may damage or kill the tree. Plant poplars in large, natural areas, where the roots won't damage lawnmowers or sidewalks. Place ground covers and perennials under poplar trees that don't require mowing and will hide the roots.
Poplar trees prefer moist conditions and will burrow into septic systems and water pipes in their search for water. They rarely damage foundations, unless moisture is present. Plant poplar trees at least 100 to 200 feet away from pipes and septic systems. Hire a plumber annually to clean out pipes to avoid clogs.
In addition to shallow roots running through the lawn, poplars are notorious for sending up suckers. These suckers are small, vegetative growths that will become small trees if unattended. They emerge from the roots of the tree, creating a bushy, untidy appearance. Prune them out immediately. Suckers divert energy away from the tree and can distort the growth of young trees. They are sometimes a sign that the tree is in decline.
Although poplars prefer moist soils, they don't tolerate standing water. In heavy, poorly draining soils, the trees may drown--their roots suffocating from lack of oxygen. Poplar trees are also known for weak branches and rotting wood. These problems can be exacerbated by fungi or conks that feed on the wood, and are often found at the base of the tree.