Girdling is unfashionable and definitely not for trees

Someone forgot to loosen the support ties on this tree, which chokes the cambium and prevents the essential flow of water and nutrients.

The word ‘girdle’ used to mean belt. Today, it’s what happens when a tree is choked to death.

Girdling is a practice that is sometimes used to kill a tree intentionally. Girdling trees is the process where you disrupt the living connection between the roots and the leaves. When intentional, this is done by cutting through the outer bark and the inner bark or cambium; the living part that carries water and nutrients between the canopy and the roots of a tree. Girdling starves the tree and the tree dies within a year or so.

Typically a homeowner does not mean to girdle and choke the life out of a tree, but it can happen accidently when someone forgets to check back on a newly planted tree.

Trees that are tied to a supporting stake may be girdled as they grow, if stakes are not removed after the first season. When left in place too long a tie gets tighter and tighter, which stresses the tree and opens it up to decay and insect attack. Over time, a tree has no choice but to start growing around a tight tie which chokes the cambium and prevents the essential flow of water and nutrients.

One of the most important things you can do to ensure the successful life of a tree is to plan out your planting project including caring for a tree for the long term. That means removing stakes after the first year, watering for the first several years, and pruning to give the tree a good structure while it is young and branches are small.

The most important thing to remember when planting a tree is to check with your local city or county government to see if there are any planting regulations.

Keep your trees safe and healthy and protect your investment. Remember to check on your trees from time-to-time to be sure any supporting material is loose so they can grow properly.

And always remember to prune, not top.

The Urban and Community Forestry Program is working with communities statewide to try and stop this malpractice of trees, and you can find out more about the care of trees by talking with a certified arborist or visit DNR’s website at