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Sugar Maple Tree not growing

Q: Greetings,
I have a very old sugar maple. Pictures from the 40's show the tree at similar size. It does not appear that this tree grows anymore.

I am estimating the tree to be about 80 feet tall. About 7 years ago, I noticed that the tree looks thinner only on the South side. The North side still looks as full.

The local tree guys say its due to lack of water...but this tree has been in the exact same situation for well over 60 years. A street to its West. A concrete drive to the north and open grass to the south and east. Literally nothing has changed over that time.....welll....we did just take down a soft maple to its east that started out from a seed that was approx. 50 ft tall.?!!

Any way......I am very interested in finding a way to support this tree's life. It is so beautiful and there are few of the old trees left on this street anymore.


A: Even though sugar maples are very slow growing trees, there should still be an appreciable difference in the tree's size since the 1940's. Are you sure it's a picture of the same tree?

Your description of the tree makes me think that there may be one or more girdling roots on the side that is less full. Girdling roots encircle the base of the trunk or grow over the top of the large buttress roots at the base of the trunk in the flare area and can eventually choke off that side of the tree.

Take a look to see if any such root grows over the top of one of the buttress roots and if you find one, hire an arborist to examine the situation to see what can be done to cut the root safely enough.

If you do not see any root growing over the top of another root (and sometimes they're very hard to find because they often "meld" into the root they've grown on top of), you may have girdling roots below grade where you can't see them.

Here is when you definitely need to hire an arborist who can excavate using compressed air and a special device called an air knife to remove the dirt, determine what girdling situation there may be, and further determine what roots can be safely cut (or not).

Girdling roots can take a long time to cause their damage. I've seen situations where probably decades have passed before a root started to girdle the tree, so it's not impossible that this is happening after all these years. Have it checked out!

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Tom Mugridge
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