What You Need To Know About Girdling Roots

What Are Girdling Roots?

Girdling roots present a similar experience to your belt putting pressure on your stomach when you eat a big lunch. Lucky for us, we can release that pressure by just unbuckling the belt.  Girdling roots require certified arborists to remove them and relieve the pressure on the tree. Girdling roots may be a sign of unkempt roots. Remember, taking care of tree roots is one of the most important ways you can maintain your tree’s health.

Girdling roots are lateral roots that lie directly, or sometimes breach, the soil surface. These roots cut into the side of the trunk, restricting water and nutrient transport throughout the entire tree. While girdling roots generally take 5 to 15 years to do significant damage to the tree, environmental factors, or disease paired with girdling roots can result in a much shorter lifespan.

What Causes Girdling Roots?

The main causes of girdling roots come from an excessive placement of soil over the roots causing an obstruction. Nursery transplanting practices and other factors may also contribute to promoting girdling root growth.

  • Compacted soil surrounding the roots in the initial planning hole results in the roots struggling to grow outward. The soil forces the roots to circle at the bottom of the planting hole, increasing the chance of girdling roots to occur.
  • Similarly, when a tree is not permitted to grow beyond its nursery container, its roots find other means to grow – circling at the bottom. During the planting process of the new tree, roots must be loosened to initiate outward growth, to combat against girdling.

How To Identify Girdling Roots

Detecting girdling roots generally does not require an expert unless you’re completely clueless when it comes to trees.

Similar to overeating and having our stomachs bulge, tree trunks flare upon feeling girdling roots. This abnormal flare occurs around where the trunk meets the ground and can result in the trunk appearing straight or even narrower.

As stated before, girdling roots may breach the soil line in an attempt to circle the trunk above but this isn’t likely. You’re most likely to notice unusually small leaves, premature leaf falling, or a smaller canopy if girdling starts to develop.

Treating and Preventing Girdling Roots

To prevent girdling roots, preemptive measures must be taken. When planting a tree, ensure the size of your planting hole accommodates the entirety of the tree and roots going into it. This means digging a hole two to three times the width of the root ball and a height no deeper than the root ball, so soil buildup above the root flare does not occur.

If circling roots within the nursery container occur, break them up prior to planting to ensure outward root growth. When continually watering the new tree, check up on the root flare for any abnormalities.

Finally, if you’ve determined girdling roots must be removed, as always, we recommend consulting a certified arborist. Certified tree professionals understand the weakening capabilities of girdling roots and the correct removal process to ensure the longevity of your tree.

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