Home Is Where Your Trees Are

Tree Structure. Roots. Part 4

A Canadian doctor named Locke used to ascribe most human ailments to deformations of the feet, brought on by wearing badly designed shoes. Some dendrologists similarly believe that more tree ailments than we suspect are caused by root deformations. Commonest of these, and easiest to discover and correct, are so-called "girdling" roots, where one crosses and constricts another close to the trunk, or constricts the trunk itself. The effect on the tree's circulation is precisely that of a tourniquet around your leg, or a noose at your neck. Any home owner with a pick and shovel can expose such conditions for himself. When they are not visible above ground, their presence can be suspected wherever one side of a trunk comes up straight out of the ground without the flare of buttress roots. For a typical case of detection and exposure, see Photos. 3, 4, 5.

contrast in pine crowns
Trouble Aloft. Though contemporaries, and enjoying identical conditions, these two white pines contrast sharply in their crowns. Something must be radically amiss with the right-hand one.
buttress roots constricted
A Clue Below, The puny pine's trunk comes straight up out of the ground on one side. Diagnosis: Its buttress roots there are probably constricted.
Errant root
The Trouble Exposed. One errant root has strangled its neighbors and the tree, killing itself in the process. One cut, at the base of the constrictor, will relieve pressure. Water was used to lay bare this girdling.

Without benefit of a trained tree surgeon, the offending root can simply be dug around and cut away from its victim for several inches on both sides of the stricture. If it is a big root, six inches or so in diameter, the operation is best performed in two stages to lessen shock to the tree. The trick here is to use a chisel instead of saw or ax. First cut away the under half of the constrictor, to relieve its pressure yet let some of its own sap supply continue. (See Fig. 2.)

Chisel cut

Complete the operation a couple of seasons later, meantime stimulating an adjusted root growth by well-placed feeding.