Caring for Tree Roots: Stem Girdling Roots

There are a wide variety of tree health care issues that arborists deal with above ground. However, it’s easy to forget that there is just as much plant material below ground as is above ground. And that underground portion (the roots) is just as important (maybe even more important) when it comes to overall tree health. The difficult part though, is that we can’t easily see what might be going on that could be affecting tree health.

There are many root system issues that need attention in tree care. More often they relate to soil based issues, but a big one is Stem Girdling Roots (SGR). Stem Girdling Roots refers to a common problem with urban trees where the roots up near the stem of the tree grow in circles under the soil and over time will girdle or ‘choke off’ of and eventually kill the tree. It often happens with trees that have been planted too deep, with mulch piled up too high around the trunk, or trees that were in pots too long before they were planted.

Knowing whether you may have SGR or not will take the skill of an experienced arborist by doing a process known as root collar excavation. The process involved using a pneumatic tool  (Air Spade) to remove the soil from around the tree and roots to expose the roots without damaging them with mechanical tools. In other words, we use highly compressed air to blow away the dirt. This allows the arborist to see if there is a problem with the roots and determine if pruning is needed. The Air Spade is also very useful in decompacting and aerating the soil within the tree’s critical root zone.

Canopy symptoms of SGR will typically present with the very top center part of the canopy dying back or thinning. Certain trees will also start presenting early fall color in those top center portions of the tree. Other indications can be dead spot on the side of the lower trunk with a lack of a clear flare to the base of a tree. The lack of a flare at the base of a tree (root flare/pedestal flare) is not necessarily an indication of SGR, but it does often indicate a tree that has been planted too deep which can lead to tree health issues on its own.

If left undiagnosed or untreated, SGR’s will eventually kill the tree. In my experience with trees expressing symptoms of SGR, about half the time the damage from the girdling roots is too far progressed to fix. Therefore, I recommend that you have all your trees evaluated by a Certified and qualified arborist in plant health care to notice any signs of SGR before the problem is uncorrectable. You can avoid SGR by; carefully and properly planting new trees making sure they are not too deep in the ground, mulch the areas around the base of trees with a level 2-4 inches of mulch and avoid piling the mulch up next to the trunk, and refuse trees that have been in pots more than a year or that already have circling roots in the pot or root ball.

Caring for trees and the soil around them is an often overlooked but important part of tree healthcare. As I stated earlier, we can use the Air Spade to aerate the soil around your tree. So often time the service can be used to investigate potential root system problems while providing a huge benefit to trees by improving the soil conditions that they are growing in. If you have a tree that seems to be declining, contact a qualified plant health care arborist and make sure a thorough evaluation is done to the root systems and well as the canopy in order to properly diagnose the issue.


Fertilization, at its root, is about making the growing conditions for your trees as productive and healthy as possible. The urban environment in which many trees grow can be deficient in the essential nutrients needed for growth and sustainability. Often these nutrients are used by lawns before the tree can process them. Fertilization adds back to the soil that which is naturally depleted throughout the course of growth or absent due to site concerns or restrictions. Essential minerals and other compounds, derived from animal and plant matter, form the basis of our fertilizer. Added to soil in prescribed amounts, it provides nourishment and sustainable energy to enhance health and vigor now and for many tomorrows to come. It is important to remember that tree fertilization is not a cure-all. Soil samples should be taken, drainage assessed, and non-sustainable, unstable growth that only looks good in the short term, but does nothing for longevity should be identified and corrected. By using natural compounds, Integrity Tree Care tries to avoid the leaching issues and toxic build ups that can be associated with some fertilizers. By working with nature, supplementing the materials nature would provide in an ideal situation, your trees and shrubs can be kept vibrant, healthy and looking good for years. Depending on fertilizer types there may be beneficial ingredients that are non-organic.

4 Tips for Watering Trees

In a forest environment most mature trees have the best soil conditions and leaf litter cover in the forest floor to keep the trees from needing additional watering in the hot, dry summer months. But our backyards are nothing like forest situations. Furthermore, there are some areas of the country where trees are traditionally not native or common (mid-west Great Plains). Therefore, if you want your trees to reach their full potential and be and stay as healthy as they can be, watering them is the single best and easiest thing you can do in that regard. Here are 4 main points to consider and follow when watering a tree for the best outcome.

The trick to watering a tree is to provide a lot of water, but over a long period of time. Use a soaker hose on a very slow trickle or tree watering bag (Tree Gator, etc.) to give a large amount of water over a 8-10 hour period. You want to soil to be at what is called ‘field capacity’ as much as possible. The slower the better!

Finger in the dirt
Grandma always told me that knowing when to water was the easiest part of gardening. Just stick your finger in the dirt; if it’s dry, water, if it’s wet, don’t water. One of the most common problems I find with people who do water their trees trying to do the best is that they end up over-watering. Often time in urban areas the soil is compacted or mostly clay like soils. Those soils hold more water and drain slower than quality forest-like soils. So you’ll need to water even slower and less frequently than most recommendation schedules. If your soil is sandy and never puddles, then you’ll need to water more frequently.

Don’t be late
Some species of trees will give you a little notice that they are starting to get dry. Birch, locust, buckeye, and some others will start dropping yellow leaves from the inside parts of the canopy when the weather gets hot and they are getting short on water. But most others will not, and if you wait until the tree starts showing signs of drought stress, you are way too late to keep the tree from severe stress. Pay attention to weather patterns and water before the trees start showing they need water. In most areas of the country, for established trees, a watering once or twice a month in July and August will go along ways to keeping your trees healthy.

New trees get the most
Watering new or young trees needs to be a different schedule. You still want to be careful not to over-water, but having a fairly regular schedule all throughout the growing season will ensure the roots have enough water to grow and establish from the stressful transplanting process.

Watering your tree can be easily overthought and can seem intimidating, but the main thing to consider is that as long a s the soil is moist, the tree should be happy. Have a plan to water your mature trees when the weather turns dry. Water very slowly over long periods of time. And be aware of how your soil drains so you don’t over-water and drown your tree. Follow these few steps and your tree will be on its way to thriving versus surviving in your landscape.

Cabling and Bracing

Trees are naturally strong, organic, growing structures. The ability of trees to withstand the environmental forces placed on them is a wonder of natural engineering unique to the world of trees. Trees, the largest of plants, have developed over time unique abilities to reach high above the ground to harvest the sunlight and oxygen from our atmosphere. Trees are capable of supporting themselves under most circumstances. However, occasionally nature interferes or abnormalities develop. When this happens, a tree will need supplemental support to help keep it beautiful and upright.

Cabling is a method of installing, high in the tree, steel or synthetic support cables. These systems reduce loads on the branch and stem unions of the tree that may be weak or split. Installed properly, the cables are unobtrusive, long lasting and effective in adding years or decades to the stability of your trees. Cabling can come in many shapes and forms, depending on each situation. It is important to match a specific system to the tree and its structure. Some trees require only one cable, others may need several.
Steel is a common material for cabling systems. High strength steel systems are rigid and restrict movement. They reinforce/replace the tree’s branch union, but at a much higher point than the tree can or would be able to grow naturally.

Cabling1A complex steel spoke and hub system

Cabling2Synthetic cabling system

More flexible synthetic systems are also available and offer options. Synthetic systems can be less invasive and allow the tree to form reactive wood and help strengthen itself. They limit the range of movement, but cannot pull broken/split pieces back together. Both steel and synthetic systems have a place. However, they must be used properly with the ultimate goal being tree health and structural stability. Cabling systems are sometimes all that is needed. If more support is needed the next step is taken, bracing.

Bracing is the process of inserting rods or bolts through the trunk of the tree to help form a foundation of support. These rods Brackingare always used in conjunction with a cabling system high above. Bracing rods provide additional support to cracked, split or unjoined branch and stem unions. The rods immediately help “hold” things together. As the tree grows around them, they become even more supportive. In very few cases with very small trees, rods may be used alone, but this is rare. Bracing rods are by their very nature invasive as they require a hole to be drilled through the tree. The stems being supported must also retain enough strength to handle the force applied at the ends of the rods where washers and nuts are placed.

When to say when
Not all trees are good candidates for a cabling or bracing system. Poor candidates include trees with compromised root systems or trees with major defects in the static relevant zone. (This is the section of a tree encompassing an area three feet out from the buttress roots of the tree into the root system and vertically all the way to the first major branches.) In these situations, a cabling and bracing system may place excessive force on the stems and root system of the tree, causing the whole tree to fall.  Some trees, due to rot or decay, may not have the structural ability to hold the necessary anchors in place. The cabling or bracing system may be installed, but be ineffective since the anchor points it relies on are weaker than the system or the natural forces applied. However, more often than not a cabling and/or bracing system can be safely and effectively installed. In cases of minor cracks and splits or genetic abnormalities, these techniques can add decades to a tree’s productive life. In the case of historic or exceptional trees, cabling and bracing systems can mitigate hazards and increase health, by limiting breakage in the canopy.

The installation of cabling and bracing systems is invasive. However, it is often worth the effort to help mitigate risk and/or hazard, as well as prolong the stability of feature trees. It should never be considered a cure. These systems are hazard and breakage mitigators.  The best system our human minds can conceive and install can be destroyed in a moment by an exceptional environmental occurrence!  Cabling and bracing systems can and do help under normal circumstances. Trees can be preserved and their beauty enjoyed for generations to come with proper installation, inspection and maintenance. Like the trees the trees they protect, these systems do not last forever. Care and diligence are required to keep cabling and bracing systems in tip-top shape.

Tree Mulching

Proper mulching for trees offers five key benefits. All five will help your tree grow and thrive year round. First, mulch insulates the soil, helping to tame rapid temperature changes in summer and winter. Second, mulch helps the tree’s root system retain water and stay moist as long as possible. Third, mulch helps prevent weeds and other unwanted plants from growing too close to the tree. This eliminates competition for water and other soil nutrients. Fourth, proper mulching can help prevent soil compaction. By “cushioning” the soil, mulch helps preserve the macro-pores necessary to store air and water in the soil. Last, a mulch ring prevents lawn mower damage to the base of the tree. Ideally mulch rings should extend to the edge of the tree’s canopy.
In newly planted trees, a mulch ring twice the size of the root ball’s greatest diameter is a good starting point. This may not always be possible, but make the ring as large as is feasible for the site and aesthetics, but always at least three feet in diameter. Carefully remove grass or sod so as to not damage any existing roots. Apply two to four inches of high quality composted mulch or wood chips. Do not let the mulch contact the trunk of the tree as this will cause problems later. Reapply mulch only as necessary. If a spring “freshen up” is desired, first try fluffing up existing mulch. If that does not suffice, reapply mulch, but stick to the depth guidelines of two to four inches and do not let the mulch contact the trunk. This may mean hauling some old mulch away!



Over Pruning, Lion’s Tailing

I’ve noticed an epidemic in several of the neighborhoods in Fort Worth, usually south of I-20. It’s called lion’s-tailing, stripping or just plain over pruning. It consists of removing all the interior growth all the way to the very end of the limb or branch. This leaves a “poof” of foliage resembling a lion’s tail. The stripped out interior may look nice to some people, but has very detrimental effects on the tree!  In and of itself, lion’s-tailing will not kill trees.  However, excessive pruning stresses the tree’s systems.  It causes an interruption in photosynthesis and depletion in stored starches and sugars.  Trees need these stores to survive other natural stresses such as drought or insect damage.  Often the water bonds that trees rely on to move water through the trunk and branches are interrupted with lion’s-tailing.  Structural issues can result from uneven foliage distribution.  Too much sunlight can penetrate the canopy, scorching sensitive bark and cause sun scalding thus creating strength loss.  Limbs may also grow longer, but not necessarily stronger, leading to future failures and unbalanced canopies. Improper pruning practices such as lion’s-tailing are one of the most common causes of tree decline, but are also the most easy to prevent.  Make sure your trees are pruned to industry standards and accept no excuses or explanations from those ignorant of or unwilling to work to these standards.  Together we can keep trees healthy and strong!

4 Benefits of Pruning Your Trees

You have probably heard that pruning is beneficial to your trees, but do you know why? There are several reasons why proper pruning really does help your trees grow strong and healthy. Here are four reasons why you should consider having your trees pruned:

It Makes Them Healthier

When you prune away dying or infested branches, it prevents the insects or other organisms that were harming those branches from infecting the rest of the tree. That can save the tree’s life, and save you money on a replacement.

It Can Stimulate or Suppress Growth

You can prune trees in such a way that either promotes new growth or suppresses unwanted growth. Get rid of any parts that are overgrown by pruning them aggressively, and promote new growth by pruning more sparsely.

It Makes Them Safer

Pruning can keep low-hanging branches from becoming too large and hazardous. On smaller trees, it can keep the foliage from blocking a sidewalk or growing in a way that rubs and damages other foliage.

The best solution is to have a professional come out and prune your trees. If you have questions or need tree service, give us a call today!


Diagnosing Tree Disease

tree with diseaseWhen we think of diagnosing disease, we typically imagine a medical professional working with a human patient or even an animal. But all living organisms can contract disease, including trees! The path for treating tree diseases won’t follow our usual ideas for treatment, but rehabilitation and even ‘medicines’ are involved in the healing process to restore a tree to as good as new. To help you understand the process of diagnosing tree disease, we briefly walk through the basics here.

Trees can contract diseases from several different sources. Insects are often beneficial for plants, but they can become a danger when they bore their way into trees, suck away its nutrients, or chew their way through its substance. Treating disease from insects usually involves eradicating the infestation and restoring the tree to its former health with vitamins or special injections.

Infectious and non-infectious diseases can also plague trees. Infectious diseases are contacted from fungi and bacteria, while non-infectious diseases stem from environmental factors such as temperature variations and nutrient deficiency.

Professional Tree Care

Before you decide to simply chop down an ailing tree and eliminate this natural resource, let our experts provide you with a diagnosis and a treatment plan: our Certified Arborists are on call at 214-971-1618!

Cleaning Up Your Fall Leaves

fall leavesMany of us would agree that fall leaves are more pleasing to look at than they are to clean up. Here we have compiled a few tips to help you when that time does come, and where to turn if you discover your trees need maintenance after they have dropped their leaves.

Leaf Clean Up Pointers

  • Wait patiently to start cleaning. While it is irritating to see your yard become coated with leaves, try to wait until all the leaves have fallen before cleaning them up. Cleaning up leaves all in one effort instead of several times in smaller amounts will save you hours of precious time.
  • Clean up leaves when they are dry. Wet leaves are heavier than dry leaves, so cleaning up dry leaves will keep you from hauling unnecessarily heavy loads.
  • Wait until the wind calms down. Choose a day with low wind to clean up leaves. Wind will scatter your piles around and make cleaning more difficult. If you must work on a windy day, rake in the direction the wind is blowing so the wind can carry the leaves to one side.
  • Consider using motorized equipment. Mulchers and leaf blowers make clean up quick and easy, but raking and cleaning by hand is a great fall work out.

After your trees have dropped their leaves is the perfect opportunity to check for tree damage. If you notice fungi, errant branches, or other issues, call our team at 817-714-1777 for expert tree care!