Can You Concrete Around Tree Roots (Explained)

As the world continues to urbanize, it tries to find ways and means of keeping trees alive and growing near and around concrete buildings and pathways as humans on their part continue to thrive in their quest for better living.

We do not recommend pouring concrete around tree roots. Concrete poured around young trees can starve the tree of water, oxygen, and other nutrients needed to grow. Concrete poured near a tree can crack as the tree ages, and the root structure matures. In general, you should keep trees and concrete at least 10 feet apart.

Nothing is unattainable with humans, and concrete and trees can indeed find a way to live in harmony close to each other. Still, just like with anything else that lives and grows, tree roots tend to venture into territories that are paved, and that’s where their conflict with humans arises. 

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Concrete Slabs vs. Tree Roots

Concrete is a composition of water, sand, and cement laid down for a specific purpose. In towns and trees where concrete is most prolific, it is usually used to construct housing structures and pathways.

For concrete to have uniformity and maintain a firm even look, the structure’s subsoil should be linked with the reinforcement of any supportive underground features such as reinforcing steel bars or construction wire mesh.

Concrete built around trees has a constant thickness of between 4-8 inches. Reinforcing a concrete slab keeps it in check against damage either caused by structural miscalculations or foreign forces.

The problem with urban soils is that after so much human activity that mainly involves heavy machinery, the ground is compact and not conducive for tree growth as tree roots need proper aeration.

Concrete laid down around a tree has its challenges, immediate and unforeseen. Still, because certified contractors laid down concrete, you should resolve these challenges from the beginning. 

Still, it is not always so, given the number of damaged concrete pavements often witnessed.

A tree has roots whose network is proportional to its branches. Tree roots have a mind of their own, and all they seek is to thrive no matter their condition.

Can Tree Roots Damage Concrete Slab?

While concrete slabs stay in one place, tree roots extend as time goes by in search of greener pastures in terms of water and minerals for the general well-being of the tree.

That said, tree roots on their part are on one singular mission, and that is to look for sufficient nutrients and water. Where there is none, tree roots avoid.

But the good thing with concrete slabs is that it covers an intended area in one seamless layer which offers no space whatsoever for water to pass or leaks through, only on the edges. But it wears out on its own eventually due to other environmental factors.

On concrete pavements, humans take walks, and some ride their bikes, and when damage to the concrete occurs, many people, while lost in thought, trip and fall, and biking become a straining activity.

But as much as tree roots have no intention of penetrating through a concrete slab, they, however, can lift it when the roots have grown bigger and push away soil as they now occupy more room than they did before.

The resolution to concrete pavements prone to damage from tree roots lies in incorporating bends or curves, slopes, or uphill’s meant to maneuver around roots and will undoubtedly make for beautiful pictorial landscaping.

Can A Concrete Slab Get Damaged On Its Own?

Concrete is applied as a wet paste and then dry and harden up, backed by natural forces.

As much as we would love to peg concrete troubles on tree roots, it is not always so. Just like in any other building material, concrete has its limitations;

  1. With or without trees, concrete will still crack; the only thing that tree roots do is take advantage of the situation and strike through the cracks and into freedom.
  1. Compared with many others, concrete slabs are weak and cannot hold onto on their own, and that is why contractors reinforce concrete floors with metal bars and wire mesh.
  1. When a foreign force is exerted on a concrete floor, it breaks or cracks instead of assuming the shape in an attempt to survive. In other words, concrete is not porous.

Can Concrete Harm Tree Roots? (Which Came First? The Tree Or The Concrete?)

These two similar questions keep interchanging depending on which between the tree and the concrete slab takes precedence. But the truth of the matter is that trees and their roots often blame even when the concrete slab came way after.

Most tree roots scavenge not so far from the surface and stick between 8-12 inches from the top. And because the stability of the visible part of the tree, which is the trunk and the branches, depends on the roots, they grow out, covering a circumference more extensive than the tree itself.

The impact of more extensive, bolder roots is buckled, cracked, or lifted concrete slabs. If you planted the trees after the concrete had been laid down, the problem lies in the wrong choice of tree.

In such situations, you should plant smaller types of trees with docile root systems instead of the more enormous trees whose roots are notorious for faster and daring root systems.

These trees include live oaks whose roots cannot fit into the narrow space between a pathway and the side curb.

How Close To A Tree Can You Concrete?

What happens if the reverse of the question above is true and the concrete slab was or is laid around existing trees?

We have established that you should plant only smaller tree species in urban areas; with pavements and concrete everywhere, it does not mean that there are no more enormous trees still facing and will continue to face this conflicting situation.

Unless the growth of tree roots is curbed using a root barrier (tree root barriers allow a 12” on all sides of the tree to promote aeration), smaller trees should have a distance of 4 feet between them and any pavement, while more enormous trees need a distance of 15 feet.

What Other Solutions Are There?

Tree root barriers are not the only solution to mature tree roots’ troubles. Here are some solutions whose composition is more likely to strike a balance between tree roots systems and concrete pavements;

  1. Creating meandering pavements
  2. Recreations and readjustments
  3. Installing tree root aeration systems
  4. Pruning of troublesome roots
  5. Use of porous building material

Creation Of Meandering Pavements

When a direct route can’t work, a meander is also an option that makes a lot of sense. Meanders go around tree roots, and it is a perfect example of staying away from trouble.

This solution might take time and engage more work, but it will pay handsomely at the end of the day because you will not have to worry about substantial damages.

Recreations And Readjustments

When installing a concrete slab on the path of tree roots, your mind must stay open to adjustable and workable ideas.

Who said a sidewalk could not have a bridge? 

It is possible, and it is creative. Instead of having a concrete slab sit directly on a tree root, you might consider lifting it off the roots. This way, everyone is happy.

These modern-day living designs include;

  1. Concrete pavers that interlock
  2. Rubber sidewalks
  3. Applying surface stone materials such as stone dust that allow roots to grow and expand, among others. 

Installing Tree Root Aeration Systems

Tree roots would choke and suffocate in the presence of concrete. 

Tree roots breathe, and the air comes from above. The atmosphere, too, needs diffusion. When concrete is laid around a tree, air, oxygen is prevented from accessing the soil to the tiny animals that burrow and roots are growing within.

But installing aeration systems keeps hope alive for tree roots whose lives depend on it.

Prune Troublesome Roots

Cutting off any root that provokes the concrete pavement is easy to make but with dire consequences.

The many webs of the root system are like a ticking bomb. You just don’t cut any wire to neutralize the danger. Instead, you must find the one wire that is solely responsible for the blow-up, similar to tree roots.

Some roots hold the secret to the firmness and the life of the tree. If they cease to exist, then the tree would surely fall and create more damage or, worse still, have the one root that brought in the most water and nutrients annihilated, and the trees become malnutrition and finally succumb to death.

The best person to chop off or trim a tree root is not a concrete contractor but an arborist who can tell which root is the lifeline of the tree and which is not.

Use Of Permeable Building Material

The construction industry is evolving each day. Today, building materials that are not rigid to force are available.

When a porous material is used to pave a sidewalk, they allow water and oxygen to penetrate, so the roots thrive even with concrete sitting on top of it.

Examples of absorbent constructing materials are;

  1. Bricks
  2. Paving stones
  3. Tiles 

How Do You Stop Tree Roots From Damaging Concrete?

All we see around us are tree trunks and tree branches whose leaves dance to the tune of the wind; what we do not see or focus on are the roots.

As the tree displays its beauty and lushness to the outside world, roots are busy waging wars and conquering territories underground. Actions that only become visible when concrete floors have been damaged.

Some of the short term solutions individuals and governments engage in are;

  1. Patched-up repairs
  2. Concrete slab replacements      

The problem with the above solutions is that they do not solve half the underlying problem or the root cause, so the damage tree roots inflict on concrete is addressed superficially, and the chances of recurrence are great.

A root is like a snake or a worm, slender on the head and more enormous from the mid rift. As it penetrates the soil, it dispels the soil. That is what happens to concrete.

Here is what to do to solve the problem;

  1. Dressing the base of the concrete floor with stones or gravel
  2. Installing pieces of rebar as reinforcement to the concrete.

Dressing The Base Of The Concrete Floor With Stones Or Gravel

Gravel is pounded stones that are used in construction. On the base of the concrete floor where it comes in contact with tree roots, concrete is laid down as a part of the tree root aeration process.

Trees need water and air to stay alive. When concrete is poured on bare ground, any water that should drain is held by the non-porous material. It clogs any air space in the soil that roots consume. When that happens, suffocation of the roots occurs.

Installing Pieces Rebar As Reinforcement To The Concrete

Rebar is made of steel, and it is widely used to reinforce concrete floors in modern-day construction.

Pieces of rebar create a mesh on which the concrete slab will sit on. The reason for incorporating rebar in structures is because it provides tensile strength to the concrete. This way, tree roots will take another course from the now hostile environment while the concrete stays put.

Why Choose Concrete Over Other Building Materials

Concrete is the number one building material that most people go for over other building materials.

Do you want to know why?

  1. Compared with other building materials such as bricks and tiles, concrete is pretty cheap and offers all sorts of building solutions.
  2. Because concrete is applied as a paste, it is easy to achieve the design and shape you want by building the design you want on the ground before pouring wet cement on it and allowing it to harden.
  3. Other waste materials from other construction sites can be incorporated into the mixture of concrete instead of throwing it away hence helping to save your money.

Final Thoughts

As discussed earlier, root aeration systems help tree roots breathe when a concrete slab sits on top of them. 

When concrete is laid around a tree, air, oxygen is prevented from accessing the soil to the tiny animals that burrow and roots are growing within. But installing aeration systems keeps hope alive for tree roots whose lives depend on it.

We love our concrete floors looking great, and we also love our trees growing healthy in conducive environments. That is because trees make the atmosphere pleasant and look beautiful.  

In their frustrations, those responsible for the concrete pavements might decide to chop off parts of the troublesome roots to solve the problem quickly. It is wrong unless it involves an arborist.

The damage caused by tree roots should not be left to pass either or delay in repairs; this is because the damage will triple in no time, and instead of patching up the affected section, you might end up replacing the entire area.


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Photo of author

Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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