Root girdled stem on Japanese Emperor Maple

Asked May 9, 2016, 5:18 PM EDT

Hello, I recently purchased a 7-8ft ball&burlap Japanese Emperor Maple. I exposed the flare and found one root running tangential to the stem (photo #1) and one encircling about half the stem (photo #2, #3). I removed the tangential root which released pressure on the stem. The larger encircling root is fused to the stem, however it leads away from the stem. 1) Should I leave this root as is, or will this reduce the vigor and stability of the tree? 2) Sometimes it is not feasible to expose the flare on every purchase at the nursery to determine the stem condition before they deliver. Are there any solutions to avoiding this in the future? I reviewed your article, "A Practitioner’s Guide to Stem Girdling Roots of Trees", which seems to be the most authoritative reference in the Internet for the condition. Thank you for the research. Best Regards, MJ.

Montgomery County Maryland

3 Responses

Girdling roots are not uncommon when purchasing either a balled and burlap tree or a container tree that has been too long in that condition. In your case, depending on how recently you purchased the tree, you may want to send a photo to the nursery from which you purchased it and ask if they will honor a replacement. If not, or if you prefer, you should cut the offending root as close to its source as possible and attempt to pull it away from the trunk. This should be done now while the tree is still relatively young and will be able to recover from the resulting shock.
You are correct in saying that it is not always possible to inspect the roots before purchase, but if possible, don't hesitate to do it. You should also take that opportunity upon delivery.


I removed the offending root as much as possible. The remaining root is fused to the stem. I'm not sure if I should remove it.

I have a small Serviceberry which was completely root girdled. I chiseled the encircling roots away two weeks ago as demonstrated in the photo. I am not sure if the tree will survive such a drastic operation, however, its not expensive and can be replaced. Should I try the same procedure with the Japanese maple? Thank You.

We do not recommend that you try this procedure with the maple. The photo on the right looks the bark around the base of the trunk may be girdled. This may eventually affect the cambium layer, the layer of cells between the inner bark and the wood.

The middle photo shows a proper cut on the girdling root. Eventually the root will decay and the bark will be left intact.