Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Girdling Roots Hurt! And Sometimes Kill!

Girdles hurt! And you know what? They sometimes kill! Yup, this is what happened to Shan and Susan's special dogwood that USED to grace the front of the home.

All of sudden the tree started declining. No matter what was done to try to help the tree, it was in done in vain. The tree perished. This tree was planted with a girdling root. A girdling root is one which is growing around the tree trunk or other main roots. As it grows it begins to strangle the tree. We gardeners have heard of this all the time, but have probably never seen the effects. Take a good look. It is not pretty. This was a large and beautiful and special tree.

When you purchase new plants, especially woody plants, be sure to pull the roots out straight prior to planting. If you have a wrap around root (and you probably will due to pot bound plants), cut the root. Ensure girdles don't get your woody plants!

in the garden....

There is another problem with this tree, I believe it was planted too deep. Normally you want to plant the tree where the first major root flares out. This spot should be at ground level. If you look closely you will see the girdled root is above the first major root, though it is hard to tell what is on the other side of the trunk. Just take care when planting all the garden for girdles.


  1. It is one of those unseen problems we discover too late that is for sure. It makes planting bare root plants more attractive doesn't it? I'll have to pay more attention to the roots when planting.

  2. You know, I'm starting to wonder if that's what's killed the Ginkgo outside my local rail station. The bark is suddenly going in near the ground. I shall have to investigate further. I'd just assumed it had been poisoned.

  3. Wow Tina, excellant examples of girdling. Janet

  4. Ouch! Great advice Tina. I hope we find that our red oak can be saved. No packet from A & M yet--I'll keep you updated on what happens.
    Have a great day!

  5. Tina -- horrible for the owners, but a great way to show this issue.

    I try to be diligent in watching our trees and large shrubs. I hacked back one Lady Banksia Rose to two trunks to get rid of all the tangled branches that were crossing and winding through. Although a Lady Banks can probably take it, it just looked like it would suffocate from all that criss-cross.

    Great visual images you gave us!


  6. Good advice Tina - and what dramatic photos of what happens later if you don't take heed...

  7. Hi Tina, how terrible, and what a loss of a mature dogwood. Our neighbors Mae and Mickey have lost several Japanese maples, really magnificent old specimens and the culprit was girdling. We must be watchful when planting and make that cut! Thanks for bringing this subject to the forefront!

  8. What a shame to lose a mature tree. Difficult to see this kind of thing in a potted tree/shrub with the tiny immature root system.

  9. I just got something in the mail on the same subject! People who have large trees with christmas lights on them (apparently not removing them) causing stranglation. What a slow decline to death, got to be careful when planting.

  10. I've seen vines do this to trees but never the tree roots themself.

  11. Tina,

    An excellent reminder. I have lost one tree to this problem...the city planted it when they took out a tree for the power lines. Just like you see on those so called 'garden' shows...they dug a hole and just plopped the root ball in in!

    Is it cold up there, yet?


  12. That's horrible to have a beautiful tree die because of this girdling. I try to watch out for this condition. But older established trees it's hard to tell.
    Thanks, Tina for a very informative post.

  13. I always hated girdles! This is great information for anyone planting trees, Tina. I never realized such a thing could happen--how sad to lose such a beautiful tree because of this.

  14. Ouch, it looks like a slow and painful death.

  15. I remember watching my grandmother put on a girdle one time. It was not a pretty sight! lol

    I did not know this could happen. My new thing learned today! I expect this from vines but not a root belonging to the actual tree or plant. We will be much more careful when opening up roots before planting in the future.

  16. That is amazing, Tina. I had no idea this could happen. And it looks like no matter how you might try to cut that swirling root off the side of the tree, it just won't come off because it's deeply attached & grown into the tree itself. I haven't had this happen yet--but I will surely be aware of it now!

  17. Excellent post Tina and great accompanying visuals. How tragic to lose the tree because of it's own root. I'm going to pay extra attention from here on out when I plant trees & shrubs. Thanks for bringing this issue to the limelight.

  18. Good afternoon all!

    Donna, Yes, it pays to pay attention:)

    JJ, It is very possible. Hard to tell but you might dig down and look and see. Good luck! If you find a root-cut it!

    Janet, Thanks! Shan was quite upset with his loss and kindly sent me the pictures to help others.

    Linda, Do let me know how it goes. I can't believe it takes so long!

    Cameron, This is a pretty big problem. I too have that issue with trunks-think wisteria. What a pain.

    VP, Yes you definitely have to be aware.

    Frances, Poor M & M! Such a huge loss too! It seems the smaller trees are more prone to it for some reason. I love the cut myself.

    Marnie, I most of time really pull the roots apart on new shrubs and trees. I mean really pull. It helps prevent this so much. That and cut it with a shovel. Works wonders. Now if I could only get rid of those J roots on mature trees (not planted by me:)

    Dave, Yup, slow and agonizing.

    Dawn, It happens so fast-before you know it. I too have been guilty of this with ties, a pain to separate for sure.

    Dot, It is a common problem, especially for pot bound trees and shrubs.

    Gail, So sad on the loss of your tree. It is a very common problem. No cold here yet. I am heading to the garden soon. Got to do some digging....

    Lola, It is very hard to determine on older trees for sure! Good point!

    Rose, I hate girdles too;) All types!

    Mom, It was frustrating for the homeowner as he had no idea about this girdling. Slow indeed.

    Skeeter, Yup-those girdles will get you every time-especially grandmothers!

    Jan, Do check your shrubs and trees very carefully as this is a common problem. Most folks think it only happens to someone else. A sad thing when it happens to us.

    Kathleen, You're welcomed. A common problem that not many pay attention to. Even me sometimes-like last summer! Another story perhaps.

  19. This isn't something I've come across but goodness! What a terrible thing to happen! Another aspect of gardening that I'll keep in mind.

  20. What a shame to lose such a large tree! I just recently posted a quiz on my site, and one of the questions was related to girdling roots. It is a shame that a lot of folks who buy trees and shrubs don't pay attention to the roots before the plant goes into the ground.

  21. Kanak, It is the 'unseen death' to woody plants, quite in the spirit of the 'twilight zone':)-

    Dwayne, Thanks for dropping by. I see you are in Maine. What a coincidence as I am originally from Maine. You have quite an in depth website and very informational blog. I am wondering though, where would I find the questionnaire as I'd be interested in taking it. You are so right-you just have to pay attention to those roots.

  22. Great post --I've experienced first hand the vine doing that but never saw a tree like that. Always learning something new --thanks:) Ciao!

  23. Ouch! Good warning. I've never heard of that happening. We were careful when building our tree house to give the trees room to grow.

    I love your glass mosaic below!

  24. Dear Tina,
    Thank you for this post. I like bare roots. To me they are the best way to plant. The poor tree.

  25. What a great warning. I have hear of girdling before, but have never seen it. You are right, it does look scary! I know that arborists have a procedure that can fix the problem. They get this Huge blower and blow all the dirt around the tree away. Once the girdling root is visible they use a chain saw and cut it off.

  26. Anonymous, Yup, it has been a bout one year since I posted about the hungry Chinese vine. Tree roots-the same. A problem that is not too common, but a problem nonetheless. The arctic air is here. Stay warm.

    Sarah, I love treehouses! If you take care they will be fine. Glad you like my mosaic. It was a lot of fun and stunning in the garden from my kitchen window.

    Sherry, Now there is an idea-bareroot. That would prevent the problem altogether.

    Zach, You are so right! Arborists have it all figured out! That must be why they get paid so durned much. I really need to go into this line of work. Just kidding, cutting my own trees is enough work for me!

  27. What a way to go, the poor plant. I've never seen anything like that happen. I must be lucky.

  28. I am old enough that I wore girdles when much younger and I can tell you it was not fun. I would much rather let it all hang out.LOL

    Tina I think Christy can use her puter in any down time as she has her laptop with her and she bought a card to get the internet. She will also be able to use it for school work.

  29. Cinj, You are very lucky!

    Mom, I did not know Christine took her computer. AIT sure has changed. What fun for her!! Yup, gotta do away with the girdles:)

  30. Well, once again, you've taught me something I did not know, or even ever think about. Poor tree. I hate girdles. No matter what my stomach looks like, there's going to be no girdle in this house!

  31. This is what happened to a large Maple I had in my yard and eventually it had to be removed. Such a shame. :(

  32. Have you seen those tables with a base made out of tree trunk? It would be cool if this could be recycled for something like that!

  33. kind of like a strangler fig doing itself in. It is a sad thing.

  34. It's entirely possible that this tree developed a girdling problem because it was buried too deeply. There's even a name for the phenomenon: surface girdling roots. I discovered (2 years after planting) that we planted 1 of our trees too deeply. We followed the standard procedure of planting the root ball slightly above grade. It was a balled & burlapped plant. What we didn't realize is that the soil was mounded up around the trunk from the ball & burlap procedure. Now I always clear soil away from the trunk of a tree to find the root flare before planting. I hope others can benefit from the experience you've showcased here, so that poor tree didn't die in vain.

  35. Brenda, Yup-no girdles here either:)

    Racquel, What a loss! So sorry for it. You just can't replace those big guys.

    JGH, Not sure is Shan still has the tree trunk, but perhaps he can do something like this. It was such a sentimental tree for them.

    Wayne, Very sad! I never could find the quiz. Neither one came up.

    MMD, You are so right. I think this may be a big part of the problem here. I do hope others learn for sure. Thanks!

  36. Oh My, Tina! That's a news to me. I should keep this in mind. after finding a girdling root, can't you cut that root off and let the tree survive? Or does that sound stupid?

  37. Yes Chandramouli, If you can find the root and are able to cut it off it might not be too late. It is worth it for sure to try. The only problem is if the root has already strangled the tree by choking off the cambium layer of the tree, it is too late:(

  38. Thanks for this informative post Tina. I learned a lot from it and from the comments.