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Girdling Roots

General Description:

Girdling roots are a serious problem for our landscape trees. We predict that girdling roots will be a major cause for tree decline in the next ten years. This is largely due to the number of landscapes planted in the last building and landscaping boom as well as to inappropriate planting practices. Girdling roots are roots that circle around the trunk of the tree, choking off the vascular system. This is somewhat similar to a pot bound house plant or container grown tree that has grown in the pot for too long. Girdling roots usually occur beneath the soil, so detection can be difficult. The problem is widely misdiagnosed, and many amateurs treat the symptoms rather than the real problem.

Symptoms of girdling roots are:

• No natural root flare.
• A flattened side of a tree, where it disrupts a more normal rounded shape.
• Basal decay.
• Crown decline- small leaves, premature leaf coloration, leaf drop, and branch dieback.
• Increased borer activity and other insect and disease problems.
Girdling roots are caused by:
• Improper planting- too deeply or not preparing planting hole properly.
• Volcano mulching- roots grow into mulch piled around the trunk instead of the surrounding soil.
• Heavy clay or waterlogged soils.
• Improper watering- where sprinkler systems not designed, installed, or adjusted properly are often the culprit.

Trees with a higher probability of girdling roots:

Norway Maples, Sugar Maples, Red Maples, Sweetgums, Lindens, and White Pines. If girdling roots are diagnosed early some relief is possible. The trunk can be excavated; girdling roots located, and surgically removed. Follow up is important, as they may reform; this is best done during the dormant season.

For a pdf copy of this factsheet: Girdling Roots

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Metropolitan Forestry Services
502 Old State Road
Ballwin, MO 63021 USA
phone 636.394.6597
fax 636.394.8930
email us