Girdling B&B Tree

longtee81July 30, 2014

I am need of a sanity check.
I planted a 1.75 inch Jefferson Elm tree in April of this year and at planting removed approximately 3.5 inches of soil from the root ball after finding what I thought was the start of the root flare.

It had a strange almost circular shape to it, but I had I figured that it was probably where they had grafted the tree and was just happy to have not planted it based on the height of the rootball. It looked strange but innocent enough to me. Just today, I decided to remove some more soil to have a better look at what was going on and see if there was a more pronounced trunk flare below this.

What I found was surprising (at least for me). It looks to me to be clearly circling roots as if it had been previously container grown, and what I thought was the graft appears to be a large root that is immediately circling the tree trunk. Chances are this tree will die from DED or a new Elm epidemic before it reaches end of life, but I was not looking for a tree that would grow well for 10-20 years and then die from these structural issues. I can handle it dying from a disease or other tree ailment as that is a well know risk of planting an elm tree but it is upsetting to plant a long lived tree that is already doomed due to improper nursery practices. I would rather just remove it now and plant something that has a chance to live for many years. My questions are....

1) Are these girdling roots and were they likely cause from this tree being initially grown in a container

2) would a reputable nursery stand behind replacing this tree due to these clear issues and

3) if they will not replace this tree (chances are the replacement would have the same issues), should I attempt to correct the root issues myself and see if the tree will survive, or is this too far gone and should I just move on and plant something new

I had to special order this tree as it is not widely available and I wasn't able to inspect it prior to purchase and delivery.

Thanks for any feedback/opinions!

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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

That looks horrible to me. Likely beyond repair. Many B&B trees are planted out from container grown liners.

P$$es me off.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 9:50PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

1) Yes
2) Yes, even reputable ones that don't normally do replacements. This is a very inferior/defective product.
3) It doesn't look "correctable". You could take care of the smaller root (towards the top of the picture), but the large one along the bottom will have to stay as-is. It's hard to tell from the picture just how bad it is. It's bad, but it could be anywhere from kinda bad to just plain awful. Also, you might could work a little on the smaller roots growing from the larger one. If they continue wrapping around the trunk, they need to go, if possible. The more of the circumference that is girdled, the more of a potential problem your tree is facing.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 10:30PM
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claynation_il(z5 Chicago)

Life is short. My small 1/3 acre suburban chicago yard has no room for experiments/slackers of the tree world. Everyone has to pull their weight. My advice? That thing is gone by Saturday afternoon at latest. Live and learn, I've bought some duds myself due to not inspecting enough before purchase.

If I had a couple acres my advice would be different.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 12:14AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

you went.. on some level.. for instant gratification.. on buying a 1.75 inch caliper tree ...

if you go smaller.. all your problems are much smaller ...

not to mention.. that a smaller transplant will get established faster.. and usually will outgrow the larger transplant inside 5 years ...


    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 11:24AM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Ken is right.

Plus, elms grow fast anyway. 3'+ per year is not unusual.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 11:36AM
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tenacre(Z5 SW MI)

> longtee81 5 Wed, Jul 30, 14 at 20:38 wrote:
> I figured that it was probably where they had grafted the tree

Why would an Elm tree be grafted?

And to what would it be grafted?


    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 12:03PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

If it's a 'Jefferson' Elm - then it's a clone (one of the DED-resistant American Elm clones), so may be grafted.

That being said, it was my understanding that Ulmus americana is one of the relative few large trees that propagates easily from cuttings, and in fact most American Elms *are* propagated as cuttings and not by grafting.

It *could* be grafted, but I think usually American Elms are rooted from cuttings.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 12:31PM
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Thanks all for the comments.
I actually attempted to listen to Ken (and get the smallest tree size they had). A few years back (2012) Ken had warned me about avoiding instant gratification yet I went ahead and bought the 4" tree and had it "professionally installed". two years later I have about 1 inch of growth and a tree that is finally looking healthy, hopefully on its way to recovery. I would have been way better off going with a smaller one.

I actually did learn my lesson and searched long and hard for this very specific tree, the problem is that there are only very few nurseries that carry them since they were recently made available to the public. After countless hours of searching on the web for mail order options and calling several nurseries I found one that actually offered this tree (They had to order from out of state and shipped to my home during their Spring delivery). They offered it in many sizes and I had requested the absolute smallest one they had which unfortunately was still fairly large at 1.75 inches. (I like the smaller sizes for the reasons that were noted but also because they are a heck of a lot easier to move around and plant!)

I would have much preferred a smaller one, but it was either that size tree or no tree and I pulled the trigger site unseen and ended up with this unfortunate situation. I think the lesson is to always make sure you have an opportunity to inspect the trees carefully before buying and be aware that underneath several inches of soil you could have a mess of a root system.

As far as grafting, it is my understanding that since disease "resistant" elms are cloned (in the case of the Jefferson Elm, it's an exact copy of the tree located in the Washington Mall in DC (link: below) While I have read that it is best to grow them on their "own root", I believe they are often grafted to non DED resistant American Elm rootstock since it is cheaper/easier. It is possible I have misinterpreted what I've read on the Internet.

Here is a link that might be useful: Jefferson Elm Tree Info

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 12:48PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Botany shop carries Jefferson Elm in a smaller size. At least they used to.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 12:57PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

If it were me, I might try my hand at taking some cuttings from the tree to root myself. If I remember right, the USNA selections are generally NOT propagation prohibited. I would of course check first.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 12:59PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

No offense but that is an insane amount of work to get an Elm! lol

Some will jump all over me but I believe many species of small container (for example 3 gallon) grown plants rarely exceed (maybe catch up) to a well grown b&b plant (for example 1.5" calliper) FREE of root issues. This is my experience in my zone.

I've landscaped three houses from scratch thus far with a 1,000 plus plants planted. I drove by my old house that I planted mostly b&b (all inspected by myself) and the size of these b&b plants are incredible 6 to 8 years later. At my current place my best growers are b&b. I only have a couple junkers as they where special order and I couldn't check em out.

My point being smaller is not ALWAYS better. For example faster growing plants, species know for contorted roots...go smaller.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 1:34PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

I have a grafted Ulmus glabra, 'Camperdownii'.
It's an interesting Elm and not for everyone. Very hard to place in a designed yard. Mine is sorta out in the open.
Small dead branches are as brittle as a potato chip.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 10:47PM
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