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How Tree Roots Cause Damage to Sidewalks in New York City?

concrete sidewalk got damaged due to tree roots in nyc

Planting trees not only enhances the beauty and aesthetics of the city but also benefits the environment. However, installing trees near a concrete pathway can cause extensive damage to it. As the tree roots grow beneath the surface, they push the soil upward and create cracks and bumps on the surface. These damages become a tripping hazard and can lead to DOT violations and legal penalties. Fixing sidewalk damage caused by tree roots with the help of professional concrete contractors is essential to ensuring everyone’s safety. By taking immediate action, you can also save the tree from major health risks. In this article, we will discuss how trees can damage your sidewalks in NYC and what proactive measures you could take to avoid them.

Reasons Why Trees Might Damage the Sidewalks

Trees are constantly growing, and their roots grow along with them. As these roots expand and grow outward, they exert an extreme force on the soil. If that soil is compacted beneath a layer of sidewalks, the pressure creates cracks in the concrete and makes the slabs uneven.

But it's not just the force of the roots that damages the concrete. Trees have different root structures, and each type plays a role in sidewalk damage.

  • Taproots: These deep central roots are less likely to cause extensive damage but can create deep cracks. 
  • Feeder roots: These horizontal roots spread outward in search of water and nutrients. They are the main reason why sidewalks might become uneven. 
  • Lateral roots: These thick roots can grow rapidly and cause significant lifting and cracking of the concrete.

Common Signs of Tree Root Damage to the Sidewalks

So, how can you tell if tree roots are to blame for a sidewalk's unevenness? Here are some signs you can look for other than the obvious cracks and bumps:

  • Trip hazards: Large gaps between concrete slabs or uneven surfaces can be a tripping hazard, especially for those with mobility issues or for people walking at night. 
  • Drainage problems: As tree roots grow and damage the soil beneath the sidewalk, the drainage patterns get damaged. This can lead to water pooling, which can further damage the concrete surface and cause soil erosion.
  • Damage to nearby structures: In extreme cases, aggressive root growth can damage the foundations of buildings or underground utilities.

How Do You Prevent Tree Roots from Causing Sidewalk Damage?

Taking preventive measures is far better than paying extra money to fix them. Let us tell you some ways to prevent tree root damage from happening:

  • Select the right tree species: Before planting a tree near a sidewalk, consider its mature size and structure of root. Opt for trees with naturally downward-growing roots. Do a little research and save yourself from expensive repairs. 
  • Install root barriers: Physical barriers like sheets of plastic can help in directing the root growth away from sidewalks. 
  • Proper irrigation: Overwatering can encourage excessive root growth, so water your trees deeply but infrequently. It will allow the roots to grow deeper into the soil in search of moisture.

Best Ways to Fix Damages Caused by Tree Roots

When removing tree root issues and abiding by DOT guidelines, contact professional concrete contractors for sidewalk repairs. They use proper techniques to fix the tree root damage while ensuring not to harm them.

Let us tell you the most common ways experts might use to fix the damage.

  • Minor Damage: For minor cracks caused by root growth, patchwork or resealing might be an efficient choice.
  • Extensive Damages: If roots have created deep cracks in the concrete and the surface has become uneven, it is essential to completely replace the concrete.
  • Risk to Tree Health: If tree roots are getting affected and entangled with the concrete surface, professionals should contact tree doctors.
  • NYC Tree Root Program

    If your sidewalk is already experiencing damage to the tree roots, you can get help from NYC’s Trees & Sidewalk program. This program is an initiative by the city to mitigate tree root issues.

    Who Qualified for the Tree Root Program?

    This program offers free repairs for qualifying one-, two-, and three-family homes with severely damaged sidewalks caused by city-owned trees. However, you can only get help from this program if you qualify for it.

    You are eligible for the program if:

    • You own a one-, two-, or three-family house
    • Tree roots are the only thing causing damage to your sidewalks.
    • You haven’t received a violation notice from the Department of Transportation
    • Sidewalks haven't been maintained in three years.

    DOT makes the final decision about whether you will qualify for the program or not. 


    While trees provide shade, beauty, and environmental benefits, their presence can cause damage to sidewalks. If you want to save yourself from DOT violations, take immediate action to remove the violations. You can also apply for NYC’s Tree and Sidewalk Program and get funding to hire a contractor and repair the damage in no time.

    If you are looking for a professional sidewalk violation repair contractor in New York, then please call 718-819-7770 or complete our online request form.