NDSU Extension - Stark & Billings County


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Are Your Trees Choking?

Many trees in North Dakota are being strangled by their own roots. It’s an underground epidemic!
Are your trees choking? Now is the most obvious time to find out. Choking trees show early fall color, small leaves, and drop their leaves early. I hate to see a tree show its fall color this early in the season.
In many cases, the tree is crying out for help—it’s choking to death!
Look to see how the trunk enters the ground. A healthy tree develops a flare at its base. A choking tree may enter the ground as straight as a telephone pole.
Why would a tree strangle itself with its own roots? It is often related to planting trees too deep. Many trees in ND are planted too deep. Perhaps we don’t want the trees to blow away!
Trees planted too deep will develop stem roots that grow in a direction that later strangles the trunk. In many cases, choking trees are not detected until they are over 20 years old and too late to save.
The best way to stop this epidemic is to prevent it. Plant a tree so its top set of branch roots are at or just slightly below the surface—no deeper. On nursery grown trees, these branch roots will have a diameter the size of a pencil or larger. Don’t confuse these roots with thin adventitious roots that may have developed in the root ball or mulch.
Inspect trees before planting. For balled-and-burlapped and container grown trees, remove the soil between the top of the soil ball to the first branch roots. A pruning saw works well for this. Dig the hole to the appropriate depth so the branch roots will be near the soil surface.
Avoid trees that are severely pot bound (large, coiling roots in the pot) and buried deep in containers. Don’t pile mulch against stems. It’s the same as planting a tree too deep. Inspect young trees to look for girdling and take action, if needed.
The next time you plant a tree, keep the following phrase in mind: “If you plant a tree high, it won’t die— but if you plant a tree low, it won’t grow!”


Filed under: Horticulture, Gardening, Trees
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