Skip to main content

A review of tree root conflicts with sidewalks, curbs, and roads

Abstract

Literature relevant to tree root and urban infrastructure conflicts is reviewed. Although tree roots can conflict with many infrastructure elements, sidewalk and curb conflicts are the focus of this review. Construction protocols, urban soils, root growth, and causal factors (soil conditions, limited planting space, tree size, variation in root architecture, management practices, and construction materials) are discussed. Because costs related to sidewalk and curb damage are substantial, a review of research addressing repair, mitigation, prevention, and litigation costs is included. Finally, future research needs are discussed.

Potential for conflicts between trees and sidewalks/curbs is high when one or more of these factors are present: tree species that are large at maturity, fast growing trees, trees planted in restricted soil volumes, shallow top soil (hard-pan underneath top-soil), shallow foundations underneath the sidewalk (limited or no base materials), shallow irrigation, distances between the tree and sidewalk of less than 2.0–3.0 m., trees greater than 15 to 20 years old.

The results of this survey indicate that cities are spending substantial sums of money to address conflicts between street tree roots and infrastructure. It can be inferred that most of these expenditures are spent dealing with problems that already exist. However, this raises the question: How much is being spent now to ensure that conflicts are minimized in the future?

Future research should concentrate on plant factors, site design, and construction of sidewalks and curbs. Also, more knowledge is needed about interactions between root growth and management techniques, such as pruning and irrigation. Finally, there is need for studies that will assist policy-makers to efficiently allocate funds among repair, mitigation, prevention, and legal remedies.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Ambrose, J. and Brandow, P. (1992) Simplified Site Design. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barker, P.A. (1983) Some urban trees of California: Maintenance problems and genetic improvement possibilities. In METRIA: 4. Proceedings of the Fourth Biennial Conference of the Metropolitan Tree Improvement Alliance (H.D. Gerhold, ed.), pp. 47-54. The Pennsylvania State University, School of Forest Resources.

  • Barker, P.A. (1988) Proactive strategies to mediate tree-root damage to sidewalks. The International Plant Propagators' Society, Combined Proceedings 1987, 37, 56-61.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barker, P.A. (1995a) Managed development of tree roots I. Ultra-deep rootball and rootball casing effects on European hackberry. Journal of Arboriculture 21(4), 202-208.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barker, P.A. (1995b) Managed development of tree roots II. Ultra-deep rootball and rootball casing effects on southwestern black cherry. Journal of Arboriculture 21(5), 251-259.

    Google Scholar 

  • Benavidez Meza, H.M. (1992) Current situation of the urban forest in Mexico City. Journal of Arboriculture 18, 33-36.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bernhardt, E. and Swiecki, T.J. (eds.) (1989) The State of Urban Forestry in California. Results of the 1988 California Urban Forest Survey. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Urban Forestry Program.

  • Biddle, P.G. (1998) Tree roots and foundations. Arboriculture Research and Information note nr. 142-98-EXT. In Arboricultural Advisory and Information Service. Surrey, UK.

  • Brayton, F.W. (1967) Root growth around barriers. Botanical Gazette 128(2), 79-82.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brennan, G., Patch, D. and Stevens, F.R.W. (1997) Tree roots and underground pipes. Arboriculture Research and Information note nr. 36-97-TRL. In Arboricultural Advisory and Information Service. Surrey, UK.

  • Burger, D.W. and Taylor, Z. (2000) Selection and propagation of deep-rooted ornamental trees for urban environments. In Report of the Elvenia J. Slosson Fund for Ornamental Horticulture 1998–1999. (L. Dodge, ed.), pp. 6-7. University of California, Davis, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

  • Carmi, A., Plaut, Z., Heuer, B. and Grava, A. (1992) Establishment of shallow and restricted root systems in cotton and its impact on plant response to irrigation. Irrigation Science 13, 87-91.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coder, K.D. (1997) Crown pruning effects on roots. In Proceedings from the III. European Arboriculture Congress (F. Decembrini, ed.). International Society of Arboriculture, Savoy, Ill, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coder, K.D. (1998) Root growth control: Managing perceptions and realities. In The Landscape Below Ground II. Proceedings of a Second International Workshop on Tree Root Development in Urban Soils (D. Neely and G. Watson, eds.), pp. 51-81. International Society of Arboriculture, Savoy, Ill, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Costello, L.R., Elmore, C.L. and Steinmaus, S. (1997) Tree root response to circling root barriers. Journal of Arboriculture 23, 211-218.

    Google Scholar 

  • Costello, L.R., Perry, E.J. and Kelley, D. (2000a) Field Assessment of Soil Factors Contributing to Sidewalk Damage by Tree Roots. In Strategies to Reduce Infrastructure Damage by Tree Roots. Proceedings of a Symposium for Researchers and Practitioners. Western Chapter, International Society of Arboriculture, Cohasset, CA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Costello, L.R., McPherson, E.G., Burger, D.W. and Dodge, L.L. (2000b) Strategies to Reduce Infrastructure Damage by Tree Roots. Proceedings of a Symposium for Researchers and Practitioners. Western Chapter, International Society of Arboriculture, Cohasset, CA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coutts, M.P. and Nicoll, B.C. (1991) Orientation of the lateral roots of trees. I. Upward growth of surface roots and deflection near the soil surface. New Phytologist 119, 227-234.

    Google Scholar 

  • Craul, P.J. (1992) Urban Soil in Landscape Design. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. New York, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cutler, D.F. (1995) Interactions between roots and buildings. In Trees and Building Sites. Proceedings of and International Workshop on Trees and Buildings. (G.W. Watson, and D. Neely, eds.), pp. 88-98. International Society of Arboriculture, Savoy, Ill, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cutler, D.F., Gasson, P.E. and Farmer, M.C. (1990) The wind blown tree survey: Analysis of results. Arboricultural Journal 14, 265-286.

    Google Scholar 

  • Day, R.W. (1991) Damage of structures due to tree roots. Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities 5, 200-207.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dobson, M. (1995) Tree root systems. Arboriculture Research and Information note nr. 130/95/ARB. In Arboricultural Advisory and Information Service. Surrey, UK.

  • Downing, M.F. (1977) Landscape Construction. E. & F.N. Spon, London, UK.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dunn, L. (1998) Tree Roots and Sidewalk Systems. Technical Report, Literature and Practical Research Review. City of Sunnyvale, Public Works.

  • Fernandez, J.E., Moreno, F., Cabrera, F., Arrue, J.L. and Martin-Aranda, J. (1991) Drip irrigation, soil characteristics and the root distribution and root activity of olive trees. Plant and Soil 133, 239-251.

    Google Scholar 

  • Francis, J.K., Parresol, B.R. and de Patino, J.M. (1996) Probability of damage to sidewalks and curbs by street trees in the tropics. Journal of Arboriculture 22, 193-197.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gilman, E.F. (1996) Root barriers affect root distribution. Journal of Arboriculture 22(3), 151-154.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grabosky, J. and Bassuk, N. (1995) A new urban tree soil to safely increase rooting volumes under sidewalks. Journal of Arboriculture 21, 187-201.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grabosky, J. and Bassuk, N. (1996) Testing of structural urban tree soil materials for use under pavement to increase street tree rooting volumes. Journal of Arboriculture 22, 255-263.

    Google Scholar 

  • Graves, W.R. (1994) Urban soil temperatures and their potential impact on tree growth. Journal of Arboriculture 20, 24-27.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gulick, J. (1986) Solutions to sidewalk problems. American Forests May, 12-15.

  • Hamilton, W.D. (1984) Sidewalk/curb-breaking tree roots. 1. Why tree roots cause pavement problems. Arboricultural Journal 8, 37-44.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harris, R.V., Clark, J.R. and Matheny, N.P. (1999) Arboriculture, Integrated Management of Landscape Trees, Shrubs, and Vines, (3nd ed.). Prentice Hall, New Jersey, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Helliwell, R. and Duncan, N. (1996) Urban Tree Planting—Final Report. Richards, Moorehead and Laing Ltd., The Highways Agency, 55 Well Street, Ruthin, Denbighshire LL 15 1AF, UK.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jim, C.Y. (1998a) Physical and chemical properties of a Hong Kong roadside soil in relation to urban tree growth. Urban Ecosystems 2, 171-181.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jim, C.Y. (1998b) Urban soil characteristics and limitations for landscape planting in Hong Kong. Landscape and Urban Planning 40, 235-249.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jones, M., Sinclair, F.L. and Grime, V.L. (1998) Effect of tree species and crown pruning on root length and soil water content in semi-arid agroforestry. Plant and Soil 210, 197-207.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kopinga, J. (1991) The effects of restricted volumes of soil on the growth and development of street trees. Journal of Arboriculture 17, 57-63.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kopinga, J. (1994) Aspects of the damage to asphalt road pavings caused by tree roots. In The Landscape Below Ground. Proceedings of an International Workshop on Tree Root Development in Urban Soils (G.W. Watson and G. Watson, eds.), pp. 165-178. International Society of Arboriculture, Champaign, Ill, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kristoffersen, P. (1998) Designing urban pavement sub-bases to support trees. Journal of Arboriculture 24, 121-126.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kristoffersen, P. (1999) Growing Trees in Road Foundation Materials. Arboricultural Journal 23, 57-76.

    Google Scholar 

  • Los Angeles Department of Public Works (1996) Review of Options for Implementing a Sidewalk Repair Program and Sidewalk, Curb, and Gutter Problems caused by Tree Roots and the Impact on Civil Liability. Report no. 1. Los Angeles Department of Public Works, Bureau of Street Maintenance, Bureau of Contract Administration.

  • MacLeod, R.D. and Cram, W.J. (1996) Forces exerted by tree roots. Arboriculture Research and Information note nr. 134/96/EXT. In Arboricultural Advisory and Information Service. Surrey, UK.

  • McPherson, E.G. (2000) Expenditures associated with conflicts between street tree root growth and hardscape in California. Journal of Arboriculture 26, 289-297.

    Google Scholar 

  • McPherson, E.G. and Peper, P.J. (1995) Infrastructure repair costs associated with street trees in 15 cities. In Trees and Building Sites. In Proceedings of and International Workshop on Trees and Buildings (G.W. Watson and D. Neely eds.), pp. 49-64. International Society of Arboriculture, Savoy, Ill, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • McPherson, E.G. and Peper, P.J. (1996) Costs of infrastructure tree damage to infrastructure. Arboricultural Journal 20, 143-160.

    Google Scholar 

  • McPherson, E.G., Simpson, J.R., Peper, P. and Xiao, Q. (1999a) Tree Guidelines for San Joaquin Valley Communities. Western Center for Urban Forest Research and Education, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. University of California, Davis.

    Google Scholar 

  • McPherson, E.G., Simpson, J.R., Peper, P. and Xiao, Q. (1999b) Benefit-Cost analysis of Modesto's municipal urban forest. Journal of Arboriculture 25, 235-248.

    Google Scholar 

  • McPherson, E.G., Costello, L.R., Perry, E. and Peper, P. (2000) Reducing tree root damage to sidewalks in California cities: A collaborative study. In Report of the Elvenia J. Slosson Fund for Ornamental Horticulture 1998–1999 (L. Dodge, ed.), pp. 8-12. University of California, Davis, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

  • Morell, J.D. (1992) Competition for space in the urban infrastructure. Journal of Arboriculture 18, 73-75.

    Google Scholar 

  • Neilsen, G.H., Parchomchuk, P., Berard, R. and Neilsen, D. (1997) Irrigation frequency and quantity affect root and top growth of fertigated ‘McIntosh’ apple on M.9, M.26 and M.7 rootstock. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 77, 133-139.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nicoll, B.C. and Armstrong, A. (1998) Development of Prunus root systems in a city street: Pavement damage and root architecture. Arboricultural Journal 22, 259-270.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nicoll, B.C. and Coutts, M.P. (1997) Direct damage by urban tree roots: Paving the way for less damaging street trees. In Arboricultural Practice, Present and Future (J. Claridge, ed.), pp. 77-84. Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Norwich, UK.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ottman, K., Genich, K. and Boeder, J. (1996) Street trees and construction. Arborst News June, 26-32, 34.

  • PCA (1998) Building Concrete Walks, Driveways, Patios, and Steps. Portland Cement Association, Concrete Information, IS209.06H. Skokie, Illinois, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Peper, P.J. and Barker, P.A. (1994) A buyer's technical guide to root barriers. In The Landscape Below Ground, Proceedings of an International Workshop on Tree Root Development in Urban Soils (G.W. Watson and D. Neely, eds.), pp. 186-193. International Society of Arboriculture, Savoy, Ill, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Peper, P.J. (1998) Comparison of root barriers installed at two depths for reduction of white mulberry roots in the soil surface. In The Landscape Below Ground II: Proceedings of the Second Conference on Tree Root Development in Urban Soils (D. Neely and G.W. Watson, eds.), pp. 82-93. International Society of Arboriculture, Champagne, Ill. USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Peper, P.J. and Mori, S. (1999) Controlled rooting depth of post-transplant trees: extension casing and root barrier effects on Chinese hackberry. Journal of Arboriculture 25(1), 1-8.

    Google Scholar 

  • Phene, C.J., Davis, K.R., Hutmacher, R.B., Bar-Yosef, B., Meek, D.W. and Misaki, J. (1991) Effect of high frequency surface and subsurface drip irrigation on root distribution of sweet corn. Irrigation Science 12, 135-140.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pittenger, D. R. and Hodel, D.R. (1999) Effects of root barriers on tree and root growth. In Proceedings of the Landscape Management Research Conference and Field Day (D.R. Pittenger, ed.), pp. 1-2. University of California, Riverside, CA, USA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rolf, K. and Stal, O. (1994) Tree roots in sewer systems in Malmo, Sweden. Journal of Arboriculture 20, 329-335.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ruark, G.A., Mader, D.L. and Tattar, T.A. (1982) The influence of soil compaction and aeration on the root growth and vigour of trees—a literature review. Part 1. Arboricultural Journal 6, 251-265.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sealana and Associates (1994) Sidewalk Survey & Analysis Study. Final Report. City of San Jose, CA, Department of Streets & Parks.

    Google Scholar 

  • Short, J.R., Fanning, D.S., McIntosh, M.S., Foss, J.E. and Patterson, J.C. (1986) Soils of the Mall in Washington, DC: I. Statistical summary of properties. Soil Science Society of America Journal 50, 699-705.

    Google Scholar 

  • Smiley, E.T., Key, A. and Greco, C. (2000) Root barriers and windthrow potential. Journal of Arboriculture 26(4), 213-217.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sydnor, T.D., Gamstetter, D., Nichols, J., Bishop, B., Favorite, J., Blazer, C. and Turpin, L. (2000) Trees are not the root of sidewalk problems. Journal of Arboriculture 26, 20-25.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thagesen, B. (ed.) (1991) Laerebog i Vejbygning, Bind 2: Jord og befaestelser. (Principles in Road Construction, Vol. 2: Soil and Pavements). Polyteknisk Forlag, Lyngby, Denmark. [In Danish]

    Google Scholar 

  • US Army Corps of Engineers (1996) Walker. A Sidewalk Management System Developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, Construction Engineering Research Laboratories. Hand-out/ Unpublished data.

  • Wagar, J.A. (1985) Reducing surface rooting of trees with control planters and wells. Journal of Arboriculture 11(6), 165-171.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wagar, J.A. and Barker, P.A. (1983) Tree root damage to sidewalks and curbs. Journal of Arboriculture 9, 177-181.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wong, T.W., Good, J.E.G. and Denne, M.P. (1988) Tree root damage to pavements and kerbs in the City of Manchester. Arbroricultural Journal 12, 7-34.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Randrup, T., McPherson, E. & Costello, L. A review of tree root conflicts with sidewalks, curbs, and roads. Urban Ecosystems 5, 209–225 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1024046004731

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1024046004731

  • urban trees
  • roots
  • infrastructure conflicts
  • sidewalks
  • curbs
  • roads