Stem girdling is an interesting name, because it isn't a stem doing the girdling of the tree – it's the roots. Roots are the support system for your tree; without them, your tree would come crashing to the ground. Unfortunately, stem girdling affects a tree from the very start of its life. Even if your tree is well established, you can help to nurture a tree with stem girdling.
It Starts At The Beginning
When you plant a tree that's been started in a pot, you should be careful when you plant it. Potted trees can rarely just be placed straight in the ground. Trees that have been potted too long often develop root issues because the roots rapidly outgrow the pot they're placed in. Once these roots begin to outgrow the pot, they begin circling the edges of the pot.
When it comes time to plant a tree like this, if the root system isn't properly rearranged before planting, your tree could develop stem girdling. This is where the roots coil on each other beneath the tree. Left with nowhere to go they begin sprouting up above the ground near the trunk. The roots that are above the ground are mostly useless as far as the tree is concerned. This is because these roots are unable to absorb nutrients and water at a root's usual pace.
Preventing Girdling Early On
To prevent stem girdling, you want to gently rearrange the roots of a tree before you plant it. A tree's roots should look like the spokes on a bicycle's wheel. The first and largest root of a tree should point straight down, and the remaining roots should fan around that root like spokes.
How To Help A Tree With Stem Girdling
Trees with stem girdling need a little extra love to survive. If the girdling is mild, you can help the tree to thrive by watering it a little more regularly and providing it with fertilizers. You should only fertilize a tree once a year in the early spring, unless it has other special circumstances.
Signs It's Time To Start Over
If your tree shows signs of severe stem girdling, it may be too late to save the tree. Severe stem girdling can compromise the tree's ability to live. This is due to lower nutrient access and a smaller spread of the root system. If your tree is browning excessively, or leaning to one side, you should have the tree removed. You never want to let a tree with a poor root system stand too long. If your tree falls, it could damage property or hurt somebody.
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