A tree is girdled when something is wrapped tightly around the trunk, choking off the flow of water and nutrients. Some trees, particularly maples, can girdle themselves with roots that grow around the trunk. As the trunk and root increase in size, the trunk is girdled.
Perhaps the earliest symptom is a reduction in leaf size on the branches supplied by roots below the girdling root. These branches will develop fall color earlier than the rest of the tree. Eventually the branches die. If the tree has more than one girdling root, the entire tree may show symptoms.
A girdling root will affect the appearance of the tree trunk. Most trunks flare out or get wider where they enter the ground. A girdling root will prevent the flare. In some cases, the trunk will actually get narrower. A long, sunken area may occur in the trunk where the portion affected by the girdling root did not grow as well as the surrounding trunk.
When you suspect a girdling root, carefully remove the soil down to where the roots connect to the tree (generally 12 to 18 inches down). Inspect the trunk for girdling roots.
You can remove girdling roots, but the results may not always be desirable. Girdling roots are functioning roots, so removing them may kill branches not now affected. The presence of many girdling roots aggravates the problem. After removing girdling roots, fertilize the tree and water during dry weather.
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