Future Girdling Root(s)

Asked March 20, 2015, 2:06 PM EDT

After removing about 5 inches of soil (4 at planting in the fall of 2013 and the other inch last summer), I discovered this very strange circling root. This was a B&B tree but appears to have the same circling issues as a tree grown in a pot (as it most likely was at some point in its life).

I am looking for any suggestions on what I should do. I didn't want to do anything this first growing season, and was thinking this Spring might be a good time to act. I have a few pics with roots that appear to be circling. I marked it up with letters to make it easier to comment on, but I think "B" is the biggest problem and I think that has to go. How likely is this tree to survive and should i remove, leave it alone or dig it up and plant something without these issues.

I am not entirely sure where to cut and when (should I wait until it gets more established). I am willing to try something severe now that may result in it dying if that improves its long term function.

Thanks for the help!

Ingham County Michigan

3 Responses

Thank you for contacting MSUE's Ask an Expert and for including your photos.

Girdling roots often occur when a tree is planted too deeply. At planting time, the root flare should be visible. Having to remove 4-5" of soil says these girdling roots likely appeared because soil was piled around the base of the tree above the flare.

If this were my tree, I would remove Root A, which effectively removes B and C too. These roots will eventually cause a loss of flow of water and nutrients to the tree and it will decline. If this leaves (in your opinion) enough root system to feed the tree, go for it. These roots could remain in place for a couple more years but will eventually strangle the tree.

An important consideration is how valuable this particular tree is to you. If it is extremely valuable, I would contact a tree service. Otherwise, this is something you can definitely do yourself. Below are some websites that may give you a little help.

You should remove these girdling roots now while the tree is still dormant. Once the sap begins to flow, there is a greater impact on the tree. Keep the tree well watered this season. Mulch is always helpful, too, but be sure to leave a 6" mulch-free ring around the tree. (You still want to see that root flare.)



I am not recommending the tree service whose web site is listed but I thought their video would be helpful. Again, thanks for contacting us. If you have additional concerns please let us know.

Thanks Sharon for the great response! To me, it is worth the risk of losing it to try and correct it the right way so it has a chance at a good future. How close to the trunk of the tree should I get when removing root A? Also, is Root considered a root or part of the stem?

Should I go close to the trunk or as I have shown on the dotted blue line (see pic - Option 1) or should I cut farther out (green line - Option 2)? I am thinking that cutting on the green line will allow the root to continue functioning as a root and will form additional roots that will grow outward, away from the tree if I bring the soil just high enough to cover the freshly cut root.

Any additional comments would be very helpful!

Thanks again.


I would go with the blue line. Root is root; trunk is trunk. A is obviously root. It needs to go. Good luck!!!