Stem Girdling Roots (SGR's)

Signs and Symptoms:

·  Unusual leaf color and/or size

·  Small chlorotic leaves or needles

·  Leaning stems

·  Early autumn color

·  Dieback (mortality of 1-2 feet of branch ends) 

·  Stagheading (death of a major branch/leader)

·  Scorched leaves

·  Visual confirmation of a root wrapping the trunk

·  Lack of characteristic stem taper (stems look like poles ) 

·  Cracking of the stem 

·  Secondary invaders (fungus, wood-boring insects, cankers, etc.)

·  Indentation of flattening or the base of the trunk 

·  Thinning canopy density and/or early or unusual leaf drop 




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Stem girdling roots are an all too common problem in many landscapes.  Unfortunately, many times home and business owners are not aware of this issue.  Stem girdling roots should be taken seriously and addressed accordingly.  Many times homeowners will find that one of their favorite trees dies just when it begins to get to a fair size where they start to enjoy the many of the benefits of a maturing tree.  Often it will seem sudden and unexpected to the homeowner.  The information below provides the basic information needed to identify and treat a SGR, saving costs and the pain of losing a staple yard tree.


What is a SGR?

SGR's are a kind of dysfunctional root that grows against at  least one side of  a tree’s stem (the trunk), squeezing or compressing the sapwood.  They are usually lateral roots at or  slightly below the soil line.  These roots restrict translocation of  water and nutrients to the leaves.  This happens 

as the root and stem enlarge in diameter and eventually the compression  severely retards or stops the flow of water, nutrients and sap both to and from the roots, thus killing parts or all of the tree.  This is a common problem in young trees that are planted to deep, have mulch piled far up the stem, and from planting of poor stock.   



Common Treatment:

Treatment of SGR's consists of removal of the root causing the compression on the trunk.  If the roots are not yet contacting the stem, simply prune out the roots before they cause compression to the trunk.  First 

excavate soil from around the root uncovering the entire length to be removed. It is common to use a chisel or saw for the extraction.  Next cut the root at a point 6 – 12” away from the trunk. Cutting 6-12 inches on either side of the compressed area often allows the root to become free and come out easily.  However, sometimes it may be necessary for a final cut near the trunk to separate the two.   More information with greater detail including visual aids and instructions can be found at the links below.