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Girdling Roots – a Case for the Orlando Tree Doctor

By Advance Tree Pros


How Your Orlando Tree Doctor Can Help With Stem Girdling Roots (SGR)


Throughout urban landscapes, trees can be found planted too deeply. A root system buried as little as six inches to several feet below the soil surface is buried too deep. Roots buried so deep can’t get the nutrients and water that the plant needs. To survive, trees will create new roots from the trunk tissue at the soil surface called epicormic roots. These roots try to keep the tree alive by getting nutrients and water.

While they bring nutrients to the tree, epicormic roots are different from typical roots because they don’t provide structural stability for the tree. They are also prone to bending, oftentimes in a circular pattern. If the roots are close enough to the tree trunk, they can compress the sapwood, cutting off the flow of water and nutrients. This is called Stem Girdling Root Syndrome (SGR) and is one of the primary reasons for tree decline in urban landscapes. SGR will prove fatal to a tree if it’s not treated.

Assessment and Treatment:

The best solution for SGR is prevention, but if a tree is already planted, then the early diagnosis of visible symptoms is most important for the health of the tree. If a tree doesn’t have a visible root flare at the soil level, this is symptomatic of the disorder and the tree might develop roots that may girdle the trunk. Different tree species can also determine diagnosis; for example, maples and lindens are more prone to SGR than oak is.

Root excavation is necessary to assess the situation. By using an Air-Spade® to blow away debris and soil from the base of the tree and expose the root collar, an evaluation can be done to determine the tree’s condition. If the problematic roots can be safely treated, surgical cuts are made to those roots impacting trunk growth. Only roots that do not affect the tree’s stability and structure will be removed. There must be enough roots left to provide sufficient nutrients and water retrieval. If the stem compression from girdling roots is too severe, then the only option is the removal of the tree.

Possible Indications:

  • No visible root flare at the soil surface
  • The tree trunk looks like a telephone pole going into the soil
  • The trunk appears pinched at the soil surface
  • The tree canopy is thin or sparse
  • Die-back in the upper canopy
  • Leaves are smaller than normal
  • Leaves may be off-colored (yellow)
  • Trees exhibit early fall color and leaf drop
  • The trunk is flattened on one or more sides
  • Sunscald or frost cracks are visible on the trunk
  • Wilting or scorching of leaves

After Care:

As trees stressed by girdling root syndrome are more vulnerable to other problems, special care should be taken to:

  • Prune deadwood regularly
  • Prevent insect infestations and disease infection
  • Keep tree roots well watered
  • Utilize the Root Enhancement System © to increase sustainable nutrient absorption
  • Prevent mulch from touching the trunk of tree