There are several types of trees including Maple and Oak trees that don’t disappoint when the landscape lights up with dazzling colors each fall. As we admire these majestic trees, many may have a common problem that can easily be unnoticed, girdling roots.

A girdling root develops when a root begins to circle and coil around the base of the tree trunk. Over time, as the root continues to enlarge, they inhibit proper trunk growth and the proper transfer of water and nutrients up into the tree.

The first symptom of damage from a girdling root is usually leaves on one or two branches turning their normal fall color several weeks earlier than leaves in the rest of the crown. In later years more leaves show this symptom, and eventually whole branches begin to die.

Another sign that your tree might be suffering from girdling roots is an unexposed root flare. A tree’s trunk should flare out to the side where it meets the soil. When a tree’s root flare is covered up with soil, oxygen is limited, roots may grow around the trunk under the excess soil.

If you cannot see the tree’s root flare – meaning the tree trunk looks like it is growing perpendicular out of the ground like a telephone pole – you might have a problem. A tree’s trunk should flare out to the side where it meets the soil. When a tree’s root flare is covered up with soil, oxygen is limited, and roots may grow around the trunk under the excess soil.

Girdling roots are especially common on maples, and many of them that were planted in the 1950’s and 1960’s have since died because of them.

Girdling roots can have several causes. For instance, if plants are held in containers for too long, many roots begin to circle around the pot. When planting trees and shrubs with these circling roots, be sure to loosen these roots from the container root ball and spread them out in the planting hole before back filling.

Girdling roots can also be caused by not removing twine or wire from the root ball before planting, planting the tree too deep, allowing too much soil to pile up around the base of the tree, or by allowing dense ground cover to grow around the base of the tree.

Other soil obstructions like foundations, curbs, or large rocks can also deflect roots and may contribute in some cases to the development of girdling roots.

Girdling roots also prevent a tree from anchoring itself securely in the surrounding soil, automatically making it a hazard. High winds, and seasonal storms can easily uproot a girdled tree or blow it over in an instant. A girdled tree can also fall over at any time and with no warning.