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Tree roots wrapping around; should I cut them?  RSS feed

 
Gilbert Fritz
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I have a forty year old honey locust tree in my yard. It is a beautiful tree that I'd like to keep, though of late many of the branches have died back.

There are visible roots wrapping around the base and cutting into one another. Should I cut them? Or is it too late? Will they do any significant damage to the tree?

I would assume there are other roots wrapped around the old root ball further down. Should I do a little cautious excavation to find out?

You can see one big fat root and two smaller ones circling in the photo, and there are similar ones visible on the other side of the tree.
IMG_5920_treeroots.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_5920_treeroots.jpg]
 
Mike Jay
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Yes, I'd certainly cut the visible girdling roots.  Cautious excavation to expose additional ones probably wouldn't hurt.  That could explain why the branches are dying.

On an unrelated note, I planted a honey locust in heavy clay soil.  It put on about 6" of growth a year for 5 years.  I was getting sick of its lack of vigor but I suspected the roots were circling around in the original planting hole.  So I took a shovel and shoved it straight down along the edge of the original hole to cut the circling roots and give them a chance to head out into the surrounding soil.  I did about 10 shovel stabs and they were oriented like spokes relative to the trunk of the tree.  The next year it took off and grew 4'.  Same every year after until we moved.
 
Michelle Bisson
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If you did down into the soil to see if you can find other girdling roots, you might like to wait till the tree is dormant.

Also, if you are suspecting that your tree is dying after trying to rejuvenate it, it might be time to plant it's replacement.  Honey locust grows quickly if I understand correctly, so planting a new one, in 5 or 10 years, it might be big enough that you will not be concerned about keeping a "dying" tree.  We can plan for mature trees succession with new trees.
 
Deb Rebel
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Locusts seem their own worst enemy sometimes. Wait until tree goes dormant then start digging carefully and take off the girdling ones. I'm told you can even do root propagations of some trees and I have some thornless honeys I want to try that with this year... Taking off from tree base or as close as  you can get, then try to take off what you can of the sideways root. Err on not messing up too many roots as you extricate and amputate the problem roots. A 'soil knife' may be a good tool to help with the extraction.

https://www.amazon.com/M-Leonard-Classic-Stainless-Steel/dp/B001FA6BK2 I can recommend this one. Worth it. Going to order the Cape Cod Weeder next spring. I have foot issues so a lot of my tools are handheld and hand powered with upper body. Kneeling and taking a foot long hand hoe after something with gusto, is often how I have to work.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Gilbert, IF that HL is still in leaf, you need to wait till it has gone dormant.

Do not use a shovel to do your excavating of the roots, instead use water to do this, you will save many roots and do the least damage possible by using a water gun (I like a 1.2 inch pipe fitted with a lever valve to hook to the hose and I flatten the other end to form a wide spray "nozzle", copper pipe works super but you can use just about any type of pipe. I have seen the water gun made from galvanized pipe and a cap installed with two rows of closely spaced 1/16" holes drilled in a straight line down the middle, it worked well and was far cheaper to make than a copper pipe one. (mine was made of scrap I had on hand = no cost).

Once you have moved the soil away, find the joint where the circling root originates (or as close to it as you can get) and cut the offender there, gently remove by tugging from the disconnect point out.
You can plant that root so the origin end is just under the surface and it will sprout suckers that you can train into a new tree, if you desire.
Go slow and you can really help that tree (it still has 80 to 120 years of life left if you can rescue it).

Redhawk
 
Gifford Pinchot
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Looks root flare is visible and that one root is not likely a significant cause of stress to the mature tree. Cut either end of the exposed root but do not attempt to remove the portion directly contacting the stem and root flare. We can do more harm than good performing root collar excavations on mature trees. If you want to venture into the soil air tools are your best bet to excavate while reducing impacts on healthy roots. If there are significant girdlibgvroots beneath the surface it is likely to late to remove them.

In periods of hot weather and little rain a thorough soaking once a week can promote health.

Mulch and incorporating organic matter into the soil can help to conserve moisture and improve soil health.
 
Michelle Bisson
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Also, trimming back the dying branches, "might" give new vigor to the tree.
 
Marco Banks
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That little root isn't causing your problem.  It certainly will not hurt to carefully remove it, but if the tree is dying, it's not due to that one small root.  Clearly the massive root base under it is healthy and pushing out away from the tree, unhampered in any way.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Michelle Bisson wrote:Also, trimming back the dying branches, "might" give new vigor to the tree.


Very true Michelle, Dead wood left on a tree actually sucks life from the tree. That's why you always start a pruning by taking out all dead wood.

I forgot in my earlier post to mention that you need to inspect this tree for borer holes, this is one of the prime reasons large healthy looking trees start to die, they have grubs inside that are eating the cambium layers and killing it slowly.
 
Gifford Pinchot
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:
Michelle Bisson wrote:Also, trimming back the dying branches, "might" give new vigor to the tree.


Very true Michelle, Dead wood left on a tree actually sucks life from the tree. That's why you always start a pruning by taking out all dead wood.

I forgot in my earlier post to mention that you need to inspect this tree for borer holes, this is one of the prime reasons large healthy looking trees start to die, they have grubs inside that are eating the cambium layers and killing it slowly.


Deadwood on a tree actually has no negative impacts on a trees health, though removing it can help the tree to heal correctly at the branch bark ridge. Trees will actually begin to compartmetalize and seal off vascular tissues around the dead limbs.

Borers do indeed target stressed trees, but the only real preventive measures, besides bifenthrin applied at high rates, are to promote vigor by improving soil and growing conditions. 
 
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