Planting trees near cement structures like driveways and sidewalks requires careful selection. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is "the smaller the better," and that goes for the tree's size underground, as well as above. Trees with large or surface root systems are not advised for planting near cement because surface roots heave up, lifting and cracking the cement. Trees with large canopies like walnut, maple, oak and willow must flex with the wind, and this affects roots, and then cement. Plant smaller trees near cement, if you must plant them at all.
The ginkgo is an urban shade tree. Its unusual, veinless leaves spread like small fans, turning bright yellow in fall. They are often seen planted along concrete sidewalks and urban parks. Ginkgo roots deeply from a central tap root, and, if properly watered, do not develop shallow surface roots that heave up sidewalks. Plant in the centre of 6 to 8 square feet of soil for best results near concrete.
Honey locusts can be planted as saplings near sidewalks, streets and driveways. They grow extremely fast, at about 3 to 4 feet per year if set in full sun and given plenty of water. Delicate branches and lacy leaves make it a favoured tree in urban areas, and its roots do not disturb concrete while the tree is young. Because they grow so fast, locusts are often taken out and replaced after 10 to 12 years, but that is usually because the canopies can interfere with power lines, not because the roots cause sidewalk damage.
Paulownia, or the "Empress" tree, is another fast-growing ornamental for areas that have a lot of cement. Its roots go deep first and then widen in their search for water, making them unlikely to disturb cement at the surface. Paulownia is loved for its fountains of purple flowers in spring, and its attractive graceful branches. Much like the locust, it is often removed after several years of growth and replaced due to its height, not its root system.
Crabapples are short at 8 to 10 feet, with a wide canopy spread. This tree is often seen lining streets in old neighbourhoods. Easy to care for, crabapples bloom beautifully in spring and make a fine contrast when placed near buildings. Their low-growth habit makes them a long-lasting street tree, though they can be a bit messy in their fruiting stage. Crabapples tolerate poor and compacted soils, which can be a problem in the urban landscape.