Volcano Mulching & Girdling Roots
Millions of our Upstate trees die each year due to volcano mulching. Almost everyone does it. The landscaper. The lawn care service. The manager. The owner. No matter how much we put the word out, the madness continues. In fact, it keeps growing! This has become the standard practice in America from coast to coast. The is a MANufactured urban problem and does not occur in the undisturbed forest.
This is what can happen when you bury a tree in mulch. Especially trees like maples, flowering cherries and zelkovas, that have fast growing surface roots. Unless you can see the root flares (where the butt flares into the large buttress roots), consider it girdled (or choked). While there are other problems associated with volcano mulching, girdling roots can be the most difficult to correct. https://greentreedoctor.com/girdling-3 https://greentreedoctor.com/tree-profiles/#girdling
Arborists, for the most part, focus upon what can be seen above ground; the trunk and the crown. This is where they earn their livelihood, fertilizing, spraying for bugs, pruning branches and removing whole trees. Almost all ignore what’s unseen below ground. Either it’s too much work excavating the buried root collar (A) and removing girdling roots (B & C), or it’s relegated as a landscaper or lawn care problem, and does not concern them. But it should. Why do any work on a tree that may be dead in a few months or years? Why climb a tree that could fall over?
While removing excessive mulch, soil, rocks and landscaping materials (wire, nylon straps and burlap) can be difficult, removing large girdling roots, can be a real chore, and not for the faint of heart. You have to cut the right roots. Cutting the wrong roots may kill or topple the tree. Muscle and skill are both needed.
Two skilled arborists spent 2 hours each on these trees. Girdling roots can go 2 or 3 feet below ground, and are often intermingled with rocks, bricks, concrete and wire. While we used pneumatic, electric and gas powered tools to help us, much of the work is done the old-fashioned way, with a chisel, hammer, and a crowbar. Most arborists would rather do anything else.
Besides the immediate girdling roots we have exposed with our supersonic air tools, there are often other roots to consider. Often, there are circling, kinked and infringing roots below the girdling roots, and surface roots that travel beyond the mulch bed and into the path of the lawnmower. Lousy planting stock and compacted soil has much to do with this.
Here, we not only exposed the girdling roots and removed them, we also lowered the grade (D), air fractured the surrounding soil, and injected organic fertilizer into our new cracks. New growth paths encourage new roots, which are needed when removing existing roots. With all that tangled mess below, as long as what’s above the root flares is remove, and the soil is not too compacted, somehow, most trees work it out.
The landscaper has made his money and is off to another job. He likely can not be coaxed back. It’s far easier to drop lousy stock into a tiny hole (we call it ‘drill ‘n drop’), than it is to plant properly (https://greentreedoctor.com/planting) or return to correct their unholy mess. Trees this size will cost a few thousand to replace, and likely, will be replanted in the same substandard way. While it may be impractical to de-girdle the worst of trees, most can be saved, if you don’t wait until it’s too late.