Girdling Root – A Slow Death For a Tree

As an arborist, many things make me sad when I see a dead tree. Most of these trees did not have to die a slow death. A girdling root could have been prevented during planting. If the planter would have examined the tree’s rootball before installation and planted this tree correctly, this tree may have been alive today.




20 thoughts on “Girdling Root – A Slow Death For a Tree

  1. When we lived in the Midwest, we redid the landscape in the backyard one year. We went to a local tree nursery and purchased three very large trees at a very large price. They were beautiful. We watered but they never seemed to flourish. When all three died at the same time and we started the great dig out, what did we find? The planting crew had left plastic on the root balls. What a waste.


  2. I’m always sad when a tree has to die. A problem here are the people who plant trees without foresight. They plant them on places where the tree can stay for some years and at the end they solve the problem with a chainsaw when they are too big for their property :o(


  3. I have some overgrown, messy eucalyptus trees that I wish someone had planted the wrong way 30 years ago. I love trees, but these trees are the bane of my existence. And I can’t imagine how much it would cost to get rid of them properly (husband would never go for it). 😦


  4. I read your post on how to plant a tree — I probably never will have occasion to do it here (yard filled up with veggies!) but just in case, now I know where to get good instructions! I’m curious though — how does this girdling growth pattern happen? Is it due to being grown in a confined space? Does it ever happen to wild trees?


    • Yes, girdling roots are mostly a nursery production problem, although it can happen in the wild (not often tho). At some point, all nursery trees are in a container. There are specially made containers that attempt to prevent them from spinning. Some species spin more than others. However, if the nurseryman doesn’t notice the issue when they transplant the tree into the ground… problem! It can be fixed with a pruner if noticed when planting (both in production and final planting). Cutting one or two small roots is not an issue to the tree.


      • Thanks, Ilex! Now I know just a bit more about trees! I know when I’m transplanting garden plants that their roots need to be freed or pruned if they’ve started wrapping around the container; it never occurred to me that the same kind of thing might happen with trees.


  5. Oh no that looks so sad (gosh I hope the trees I planted don’t have this problem…). So couldn’t you cut this root even after its been planted assuming it hasn’t died yet?


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