Good, affordable pathway materials for sidewalk with tree root problems


WASHINGTON Pounding the pavement is getting a little easier on people’s knees in many cities around the country.

For reasons of safety and ease of maintenance, Washington and dozens of other communities are installing rubber sidewalks made of ground-up tires.

The rubber squares are up to three times more expensive than concrete slabs but last longer, because tree roots and freezing weather won’t crack them. That, in turn, could reduce the number of slip-and-fall lawsuits filed over uneven pavement.

The shock-absorbing surface also happens to be easier on the joints of joggers, and more forgiving when someone takes a spill.

And the rubber sidewalks are considered more environmentally friendly: They offer a way to recycle some of the estimated 290 million tires thrown out each year in the U.S., and they do not constrict tree roots the way concrete slabs do.

“As our trees grow and mature sometimes the root systems begin to pull up the sidewalks,”...

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How many times have you gone for a walk and noticed sidewalks cracked or heaved out of place because of tree roots? Unfortunately this problem is all too common. Not only are the damaged sidewalks a potential accident for pedestrians, correcting the situation can be damaging to the tree. Prevention is the best possible way to avoid having to deal with problem tree root systems. When root problems develop, root pruning may be necessary. Root pruning, however, should not to be taken lightly.

Avoid planting trees in areas with less than three feet between paved areas. In areas with 3 to 4 feet between paved areas, plant trees that grow to a mature height of less than 30 feet. In areas with 5 to 6 feet between paved areas, select trees that mature about 50 feet tall. Reserve trees that mature higher than 50 feet for areas with at least eight feet between paved areas. This allows adequate space for the tree roots.

Avoid planting shallow rooted tree species near...

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There is a renewed focus by municipalities, designers and landscape architects on tree root protection. Traditional methods of tree root protection include different types of tree protection grates, concrete over top of the root bed and restricting the physical access around trees. Traditional methods of tree root protection are often expensive, difficult and complicated to install and not completely effective.

Traditional methods such as concrete pads and blocks are often tripping hazards and minimize the available walkable area on sidewalks. Providing effective tree root protection is further challenged when the trees are planned on top of underground parking areas or challenging soil conditions, further reducing the available depth available for the rooting system.

Designers and developers are choosing to go without trees and pay the penalties rather than include the costly ground supporting infrastructure required to give the roots adequate space to grow. The...

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Root systems are vital to the health and longevity of trees. All plants need water, oxygen, and nutrients. These are most readily available near the soil surface where precipitation infiltrates the soil and oxygen from the atmosphere diffuses into the porous soil. Most roots, therefore, especially the important, tiny, absorbing roots, proliferate near the soil surface. The majority of a large tree’s roots are in the upper 18"-24" of soil. When space is available, roots can spread two to three times further than the branches. Tree roots are often associated with situations that cause damage to structures, pavements, and utilities. In almost every case, roots are not the cause of the problem.


Instances of pipes being broken by the growth of roots are rare, but blockage of damaged pipes is not uncommon. As roots enlarge, they may occasionally break the pipes and enter the cracks. More commonly, the pipes fail...

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by James A. Bacon

The vast majority of sidewalks in my home town, Richmond, Va., are made of concrete slabs. Concrete materials are inexpensive and the sidewalks are easy to install. But in a burg like Richmond, where people dearly love their trees, concrete pavement presents a problem. Tree roots lift or crack the slabs, creating hazards for pedestrians. Replacement can get costly — as much as $35 per square foot in Los Angeles.

So, the race is on to re-think the humble sidewalk, reports the Atlantic City Lab. Is it practicable to use other materials? Can sidewalks be integrated into storm water management systems? Can they be used to generate energy? Is their sole function to enhance walkability?

Some locales have run underground tubes carrying hot water under sidewalks to keep them clear of snow and ice. Others are tinkering with ways to convert the kinetic energy of footsteps into electricity, which can be used as an off-grid power source. Yet others are...

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by Jared
(Tampa, FL)

Landscaping a Driveway and Walkway

Landscaping a Driveway and Walkway 2

I would like to get your thoughts on possibly adding plants along the driveway and walkway to create a more inviting appearance. What are your thoughts on landscaping a driveway and walkway...types of plants or flowers that are perennial? I may also put a palm somewhere.


Hi Jared,

You might consider adding a bed at either side of your driveway at the entrance. Here, you can place groups of perennial flowers. Place shorter ones closer to the driveway and taller ones towards the outer part of the bed.

You can also add a small tree in the bed on the right (looking at your house) and a medium size shrub on the left. Don't line these two plants up with each other but position one further up towards your house, most likely the shrub.

I often like trees to mark a driveway entry....

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There are a couple of different ways to use trees for driveways as part of your landscape design. Depending on which way you choose to place them, the design can be either more naturalistic or formal. You can use either ornamental or shade trees.

Allee of Trees

Pear Trees lining a driveway

One of my favorite types of designs is to create an allee of trees. This is where trees line the driveways on both sides. When first planted it is a nice look, but it gets even better as the trees mature.

Imagine an old estate with a long driveway approach to the house with trees enveloping you. Because they have age to them, they often have large, tall canopies that arch over the drive. Charming!

Beautiful fall color - something to look for when selecting your trees

Pear Trees - more columnar but very stately

What type of trees for driveways should you choose for an allee?

My first choice would be a Red Maple,...

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