'Girdling' standing lumber, and why not

Cutting the cambium layer of a tree in order to dry wood while standing. January 4, 2001

In order to promote drying of wood in its most natural position, I have heard of cutting a ring through the bark at the bottom of a live tree and treating this area for bugs. Can you tell me more about this?

Forum Responses
The ring method is commonly called girdling, and involves severing the cambium of the living tree. Drying the wood in the girdled tree is a bogus method!

Girdling will kill the tree, but blue stain is likely to develop within a few weeks, depending on the weather. Insect damage is likely, as well. Some decay under the bark might be expected if left standing too long in a moist environment.

I agree--do not do this.

Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor

If the tree is not in a dormant stage, a single ring cut around the tree may not be totally effective. An active, healthy tree may actually bridge a single cut quickly enough to recover. Make two complete rings around the tree with a saw a few inches apart. However, unless you are short on space, you are far better off sawing as soon as possible.

I’ve heard this method is of benefit with log homes in that it minimizes further twist and warping in logs that are processed after being fairly well dried in a standing dead condition.

Girdling was traditionally done years ago in Asia, always one year before the tree was to be felled in order to have it dry for floating down the river. It worked well with teak, which is exceptionally resistant to termites and other decaying problems.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor E:
I remove trees in Toronto and Ontario, Canada. I have cut down a lot of dead trees and I recently took down a white oak that had been dead maybe ten or twelve years. The limbs were bone dry trunk was a little humid inside. I saw that the wood’s cells were dry because I watched a friend split it for firewood and I had the opportunity to examine it closely over several days.

The American elm when killed by elm-bark beetle which feeds on the cambium layer (inner bark) tends to dry the tree out. It is believed that this is due to the cambium layer absorbing the humidity from the sapwood and heartwood (in limbs up to 10") in its final struggle to go on living. Elm is known to have a long drying time as firewood. The trunks of the elms remain soaking wet. I have never tried to dry them. There are some vigorous undesirable species such as Manitoba maple, Chinese elm, Norway maple, ailanthus, mulberry and etc. These trees are vigorous to the extent that when cut down they grow back from the stump.

To get rid of them without removing the stump you can girdle the tree removing a ring of 12-20 inches of bark from the trunk and the tree will expend its recourses trying to recover. To maintain its existing canopy it will die and have no energy to sucker out from the base. The wood dries as well. The white oak I first mentioned was dry right through so round wood can dry.

Comment from contributor A:
Girdling a tree in the four seasons forest has been practiced in northern Europe for more than two millennia. A tip is to girdle in the fall as to prevent the onset of molding and insects. This also starves the roots from the winter nourishment they need and the tree will not be prepared to bridge back.