Girdling Roots

girdling roots3
Girdling roots wrapping around tree and causing early fall coloration in the crown. roots were exposed with an Air Spade and pruned to increase health of tree.


Girdling roots are roots that wrap around the trunk of the tree just below the soil surface. If unnoticed or uncorrected they will strangle the tree to the point of death.

Causes of Girdling Roots

  • Planting a tree in a hole too small causing roots to circle
  • Planting too deep
  • Tree was grown in a container for too long and has become “pot bound”
  • Piling mulch against the trunk of the tree (volcano mulch)

    volcano mulching
    Volcano mulching. Mulch should be kept away from the trunk of the tree and placed no deeper than 2-4 inches.
  • Planting in very compacted soils
  • Failure to remove wire cage and burlap on balled and burlapped trees.

Symptoms of girdling roots

  • Early fall color

    Tree with early fall coloration due to girdling roots
    Tree with early fall coloration due to girdling roots.
  • Late leaf onset
  • Small leaf size
  • Damage or death to a few branches
  • Abnormal root flares
  • Chlorosis
  • Trunk indentation or flattening near the soil


Prevention is the best treatment for girdling roots.

  • Mulch appropriately
  • Plant trees at proper depth
  • Root bound trees should have roots pruned or if pruning will not correct do not plant
  • Ensure hole is wide enough (in very compact soils hole should be at least 2 to 3 times the width of the root ball at the soil surface)

If girdling roots occur Wellnitz Tree Care can expose roots with an Air Spade, and properly prune girdling roots away from the tree. If girdling roots are severe enough that they cannot be corrected without causing significant to the tree, the tree’s stability is compromised and should be removed.

If you have concerns about a tree contact us. We would be happy to come take a look.


For more information check out these websites.

Missouri Botanical Garden

Bartlett Tree Experts

K-state Extension 

Wellnitz logo