University of Florida

Home > Root growth > Root collar exam and treatments > Roots girdling the trunk > Stem girdling root removal

Stem girdling root removal

Roots that girdle the stem (stem girdling roots) can be removed. There are many examples of this discussed below. If removal is easy and can be performed without damaging the trunk then go ahead and remove them. If removal is difficult consider simply cutting them without removing. One research report showed that removing all roots growing horizontally from two sides of the trunk caused no shoot die-back in the crown. Arborists who remove stem girdling roots as part of their regular tree care program report that roots can be removed until their total cross sectional area is 25 percent of the trunk cross sectional area at 4.5 feet from the ground. We used this 25% guideline to removed roots from ten 25-inch diameter live oak with no visible impact on the tree. The final cut when removing roots should be make tangent to trunk because new roots often grow back in the direction of the removed roots.

roots growing over root flare
Roots grew up into the mulch that was maintained against the trunk of this declining tree for many years. There are too many roots growing over the root flare to treat.


remove girdling roots

Removing a girdling root growing over a main root using a hand saw.

after roots are removed

After removal, the main root below is uncovered and can grow normally.

lower trunk may crack with girdling roots

Lower trunks sometimes crack when a large stem girdling root is present. Cut this cedar root now and remove as much as possible.

trunk crack in red maple

Trunk crack on red maple from a stem girdling root. It may not be reasonable to think we can improve health on this tree.

removing large girdling root

Removing a larger girdling root can sometimes be accomplished with a chain saw. The two maple stem girdling roots in this photo were not grafted to the trunk.

circling roots

Cut and remove these roots growing on top of the main flare roots.

smaller roots growing over main roots

This mess of small diameter maple roots growing over the main roots is very difficult to remove on certain trees.

tulip poplar girdling root

This 4 inch diameter tulip-poplar root is easily removed; removal will improve tree health.

girdling roots on elm

Girdling roots formed early on this elm resulting in a swollen trunk above the roots (see left side of trunk).

girdling roots on zelkova

Trunk was swollen abnormally near the base of one side of this declining zelkova. This results from the phloem accumulating sugars from above that are unable to pass to the root system. Mulch and soil were removed with high speed air. Many large roots were growing around and girdling the trunk. See photo below for treatment.

chisel and power saw to remove roots

Chisels and power saws were used to cut roots that were embedded into the trunk. Roots must be cut all the way through so trunk can expand. Chisel is a great tool for cutting roots that are embedded deeply into the trunk as shown above.