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Trying to save a girdled tree

Posted by Debbie Lienhart 
Trying to save a girdled tree
April 13, 2013 02:26AM
One of the apple trees at our community garden has been girdled 75-80% of the way around a few inches under the ground surface, probably by voles. The tree is either 4 years old or was planted 4 years ago - I'm not clear on that detail. It's about 3" in diameter and 10-12' tall. I can't find the graft so it was either planted way too deep, which is possible, or is a seedling, which is also possible. The garden manager would like to save the tree, or at least learn a lot in the process.

I'm thinking of planting a couple apple rootstocks next to the tree on the girdled sides and grafting them to the tree. (I've never done anything like this before.) Fortunately (or unfortunately) this tree has a significant bend to its trunk so this procedure could greatly add to its stability. I have potted M7 apple rootstocks in 1 gallon that are approx. pencil diameter and 3 gallon that are closer to 1/2" diameter. The tree has just started to leaf out and the potted rootstock leaves are about half size. Any experience or guesses about which size potted rootstock would take the graft better?

Also, since the tree is missing a lot of its root mass on the girdled sides (it wabbles), I wonder if we should cut it back significantly to balance the top mass with the roots while the new trunks are developing...

Any other hints or advice?

Debbie and the Black Mountain Community Garden
Re: Trying to save a girdled tree
April 13, 2013 08:04PM
When a tree has been completely girdled, graftage is the only method of saving it. Debbie, you should absolutely prune it back hard right now (before growth would have been better, but this will still help). Since you mention it is waking up, the bark should slip nicely. An easy method is to plant the rootstocks, then mark it an inch below where they will contact the tree. Make an "L" shaped cut through the patient tree to the cambium and you should find this will slip open a flap for you. Sharpen your rootstocks like you would the stock for a saddle graft, the longer the better- this will leave you two exposed surfaces per rootstock opposite each other. Now, since the flap for each rootstock is an inch lower, it will have some tension to help hold it in place. Slide it in. Finish by wrapping it with electrical tape and wax anything you think may let in air. (The wax rings used for setting toilets works perfectly). Works almost every time for us. The more rootstocks the better to hedge your bets. We are using the same method in Walden to convert dwarfs to standards.

Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard
Zone 3 in Vermont
Re: Trying to save a girdled tree
April 14, 2013 07:29AM
I had about 15 trees fully girdled this winter and made my first efforts bridge grafting with dormant scion cut a month before from the same trees. I thought about planting fresh rootstock adjacent and grafting in, but was afraid the roots would not be developed enough to support the tree--- I never considered cutting the trees back a lot (duh). I'd like to attach pics, but it's asking for URL - can we upload pics here or they must be hosted elsewhere ?

I've heard that the trees will appear viable for a while, even without access to the rootsystem. When will I know for sure if this worked or not ?

Josh Klatt
Ohio River Valley
Zone 6b
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