A Home Owner's Guide To Tree Girdling

Girdling is a type of trunk damage that can be lethal to landscape trees. Fortunately, it is avoidable. The following guide can help you better understand this condition.

Types of Girdling

There are two main types of girdling. The first occurs naturally when the roots are not able to spread out properly into dense soil. One or more roots wraps around the base of the trunk. As the roots and trunk grow and enlarge, the roots choke the trunk and cut into the cambium layer. Once this happens, the tree will usually quickly decline in health. Girdling roots are typically above or just under the soil surface.

The other type of girdling is bark damage. It can be caused by animals pulling off the bark, mechanical damage such as hitting the trunk with a lawnmower, or from cutting into the bark. If a circle of bark is removed that completely or nearly completely encircles the trunk, then the tree is fully girdled and the prognosis won't be good.

Symptoms and Problems

In most cases, with the exception of roots just beneath the ground, the most obvious symptom of girdling is visible. You can see the encircling root or damaged bark. The tree will begin to decline in health. Leaves may yellow and then turn brown and dry as nutrients and water supplies can't make their way up the trunk. Partial girdling can lead to branch tip dieback. Insects may also begin to invade the dying tree.

The problem is that the layer of wood that transports nutrients, water, and energy lies just beneath the bark. When the bark is stripped off or constricted by a root, then there is no nutrient flow between roots and crowns. Without this flow of support, the tree will die.

Treatment Options

There is very little that can be done once girdling has occurred. If you catch a girdling root early, you can slice through it and stop the process before the damage has advanced far. You can also take steps to protect bark at the first signs of damage, such as by installing animal cages around young trunks to prevent bark feeding.

Once girdling has completely severed the cambium layer, the only option is to have the tree removed. Death will happen relatively quickly once there is no nutrient flow, and a dead tree can pose a safety hazard in the yard.

Contact a tree removal service if you have a girdled tree that cannot be saved.