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Archive for the ‘Air tool transplanting’ Category

Posted on Taking Place on July 1, 2009:

A few posts back I mentioned my February 2009 article in Lawn and Landscape Magazine on bare-root tree transplanting using an air spade. That article was preceded by my December 1, 2008 article in American Nurseryman, in which news of the technique debuted. Both articles describe the workshop at which several trees — a Juniperus virginiana, a couple of Acer palmatum, a couple of Betula pendula ‘Gracilis’, among others — were spaded and moved. Both articles outline how to carry out the process, though the Lawn and Landscape article is a bit more explicit. And they compare the merits of different methods of transplanting (tree spaded, ball & burlap, and air spade), including how cost, speed of operation, and effect on tree health may vary.

The beauty of using an air spade to transplant specimen trees is that so much root mass can be preserved and moved with the tree. The following photos of a dwarf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum dissectum), lent by Matt Foti, illustrate just how effective at saving roots this technique is.

Matt and his crews are using an air spade routinely now in transplanting work, because it preserves the tree’s resources so well, minimizing transplant shock and easing re-establishment. They moved this tree in early September of 2008. Take a look:

Acer palmatum dissectum awaiting its move.  Soil under the tree has been lightly spaded to check surface roots.

Acer palmatum dissectum awaiting its move. Soil under the tree has been lightly spaded to check surface roots.

Same tree, roots now exposed by the air spade.  Note how far beyond the tree's dripline these roots extend.

Same tree, roots now exposed by the air spade. Note how far beyond the tree's dripline these roots extend.

Tree being lifted up for the move.  The crew has wrapped its trunk and main limbs, to avoid injury; guy lines insure that it won't tip in transit.

Tree being lifted up for the move. The crew has wrapped its trunk and main limbs, to avoid injury; guy lines insure that it won't tip in transit.

Wrapping thoroughly during this kind of move lessens the chance of bark injury.

Wrapping thoroughly during this kind of move lessens the chance of bark injury.

Tree in its new location, backfilled and awaiting thorough watering.  No staking is necessary, as most of the root plate has been preserved and will continue to support the tree in its new home.

Tree in its new location, backfilled and awaiting thorough watering. No staking is necessary, as most of the root plate has been preserved and will continue to support the tree in its new home.

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In the year since I’ve been writing about bare-root transplanting and air-tool use, I’ve had the great good fortune to be able to ask questions of the real experts, the arborists who are doing this work and promoting it throughout Massachusetts and the US.  Three in particular have been especially helpful:

Mike Furgal

Mike Furgal

Mike Furgal, the original developer of the air-tool bare-root transplant method, has patiently reviewed my articles and given thoughtful and well-considered answers to all my questions.  He has a tremendous amount of knowledge about trees and transplanting, and he is extremely generous in sharing it.

Matt Foti

Matt Foti

Matt Foti, who hosted the first MAA workshop on air-tool bare-root transplanting (given by Mike and Matt) at his nursery at Nonset Farm, has taken the time to discuss a wide range of tree-related issues with me, and to provide clarifications to help make this information as up-to-the-minute and accurate as possible.  He has been the catalyst to get word of bare-root work out to the MAA and beyond, and has put energy and dedication into practicing, experimenting, and teaching.  Another generous guy.

Carl Cathcart

Carl Cathcart

Carl Cathcart, Consulting Arborist, has provided encouragement and still more information to me from the day we met at the Nonset Farm workshop.  He alerted me to the Cavicchio’s root-washing experiment, he talks up my writing to other arborists, and his encouragement is what got me writing about this stuff in the first place.

In July, Matt and Mike transplanted a number of very large trees for a project in Wellesley, MA.  They (and the homeowner, contractor, and landscape architect) kindly allowed me and a colleague to videotape the moving of two forty-foot high London Plane trees.  Editing of over six hours of videotape is underway now, and I’m hopeful that I’ll have a decent film this fall that Matt and Mike can do some voiceover comments on (not possible on site — air-tools are incredibly loud!).    When we’re done, it should give a fairly comprehensive look at how this method works for transplanting significant trees.  (And I bet Carl’s going to talk it up…)

For all these reasons, I offer my sincerest thanks to Mike, Matt, and Carl.  They are models of generosity, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

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Air spade tree transplanting.  Warning:  Long post, tons of photos.

Probably the biggest draw of the Elm Bank workshop on September 10, 2009, was Mike Furgal’s moving of a 6″ caliper elm hybrid.  Mike first developed the method of air-tool bare-root transplanting in 2004, and has been working on it since, moving ornamental specimens and canopy trees with great success.  The biggest tree he has moved was a 21″ caliper, 50′ high mulberry (it was the owner’s choice), in November 2008; this past July he worked on Matt Foti’s project of moving several large trees, including the five 40′ high London plane trees showcased in posts on www.takingplace.net.

(To find those posts, click on the link in the last sentence, and then click on the ‘Plants’ link in Categories listed on the right side of the page.  All posts related to air-tool transplanting will pop up; the links for the London plane project are dated July 29, July 31, August 3, and August 7.  Browse among earlier ‘Plants’ posts for more articles on bare-root transplanting.)

So Mike has lots of experience with this work, and continues to think about the best ways — for the trees and for the crews — to move trees.  He made a number of observations in his Elm Bank talk about air-tool transplanting:

1.  The larger the tree, the more cost-effective the bare-root move is.

2.  Bare-root transplanting lets roots settle immediately into the soil on the new site.  With no root ball/surrounding soil interface to impede moisture saturation or interrupt moisture flow, the roots are able to adapt right away and start growing.  As a result, watering and aftercare are also easier and more effective.

3.  The greater the depth of good quality soil, the more apt roots are to grow down as well as out.

4.  Arborists and landscape architects MUST stress the need for sustained aftercare once a tree has been bare-root transplanted.  One year of attentive watering is good, but two, three, four, or even five years is better.

5.  Mike asked “Do we arborists plant trees or do we install them?”  When you install a B&B tree, he suggested, you dig a hole, put the tree in the ground, backfill, and water.  When you plant a tree, you remove the wire basket, remove the burlap and twine, possibly break up the soil mass, spread the roots out to promote outward growth, and water sufficiently for the next couple of years for the tree to root into its home.  ‘Installing’ a tree makes the tree simply a product, a commodity that can (and may have to be) replaced.  ‘Planting’ a tree recognizes and attends to the needs of this living organism, and promotes its good health and sustained long life.

6.  Air tools dry out root surfaces — pre-watering of the root mass and soil around a tree to be moved helps the tree hydrate and maintain turgor pressure during the transplant operation.  Mike suggested that trees may have a greater tolerance for short-term root drying than is commonly assumed, and urged the audience to observe what happens to the roots of trees they may move bare-root, and how those trees react to the process.

7.  When you use an air tool to excavate a tree for transplanting, dig your soil trench in sections, and dig it deep enough (measured in feet, not inches) to hold quite a bit of blown out soil, thus minimizing the number of times it needs to be emptied.  Mike pointed out that it’s necessary to consider how best to move the excess soil around; it’s important to plan the job at the outset, including how to access the plant(s) to be moved, how to avoid plants to remain, and where to stockpile the blown-out soil.

8.  The bare-root process can allow arborists use lighter equipment (depending on tree size, of course) than may be necessary for B&B trees.  A 2000-pound mini-excavator can pick up a six-inch elm, while to move that same tree B&B would require a large backhoe or front-end loader.

9.  The more fibrous a tree’s root system, the less likely it is to need cabling after a bare-root transplant.  A root mass’s size, the nature of its rooting, and the relationship between those factors and the tree’s size will also factor into the decision to cable a newly-planted bare-root tree.

Mike had blown soil out from around the roots of the Elm Bank elm the day before the workshop, and kept them covered until the workshop demonstrations began.

Healthy elm tree, soil blown off its roots, ready to be moved.

Healthy elm tree, soil blown off its roots, ready to be moved.

Closeup of the roots.  This root mass measured 14 feet across at its widest.  Roots have been pigtailed -- that is, tied together and lifted to keep them from breaking during the air-tool process and move.

Closeup of the roots. This root mass measured 14 feet across at its widest. Roots have been pigtailed -- that is, tied together and lifted to keep them from breaking during the air-tool excavation and move.

Dingo used to move the tree, whose new location was about fifty feet away from where it originally stood.

Dingo used to move the tree, whose new location was about fifty feet away from where it originally stood.

Mike Furgal and his assistant planning their course of action.  Note the tagline leading out from the canopy; it will be used to stabilize the tree during the move and backfill operation.

Mike Furgal and his assistant planning their course of action. Note the tagline leading out from the canopy; it will be used to stabilize the tree during the move and backfill operation.

Mike directs the Dingo forks under the root plate while his assistant holds the trunk stable.  Note the heavy burlap padding both on the Dingo and on the tree trunk.

Mike directs the Dingo forks under the root plate while his assistant holds the trunk stable. Note the heavy burlap padding both on the Dingo and on the tree trunk.

Lifting the tree.  Trunk padding rests on Dingo padding; tagline helps the trunk and canopy remain steady.

Lifting the tree. Trunk padding rests on Dingo padding; tagline helps the trunk and canopy remain steady.

Beginning to move the tree requires that it sit firmly on the forks, and remain balanced through the move.

Beginning to move the tree requires that it sit firmly on the forks, and remain balanced through the move.

Cutting the last few anchored roots, and any roots broken in the process.  Loppers work best; be sure they are sharp enough to make clean cuts (a set of root-pruning tools is useful, as cutting dirty roots with top-growth tools will ruin their blades quickly).

Cutting the last few anchored roots, and any roots broken in the process. Loppers work best; be sure they are sharp enough to make clean cuts (a set of root-pruning tools is useful, as cutting dirty roots with top-growth tools will ruin their blades quickly).

Moving the elm up its soil ramp and out of its plant bed; an attending arborist jumps in to help the roots past this thriving pine.

Moving the elm up its soil ramp and out of its plant bed; an attending arborist jumps in to help the roots past this thriving pine.

Elm tree on the move.  Stabilizing the trunk and moving slowly keeps the job safe.

Elm tree on the move. Stabilizing the trunk and moving slowly keeps the job safe.

Big canopy.  This year's growing season was moist and fairly cool, leading to lots of topgrowth and long twig extension.

Big canopy. This year's growing season was moist and fairly cool, leading to lots of topgrowth and long twig extension.

Mike steers the Dingo to the crater he has dug.  It is relatively shallow, to match the elm root mass depth, and wide (though not wide enough at first -- a couple of trenches had to be dug beyond the crater at the last minute to some extra-long roots).

Mike steers the Dingo to the crater he has dug. It is relatively shallow, to match the elm root mass depth, and wide (though not wide enough at first -- a couple of trenches had to be dug beyond the crater at the last minute to some extra-long roots).

Lowering the elm into its crater.

Lowering the elm into its crater.

Whoa!  A moment of excitement, when tree weight and crater's-edge sloped combined to tip the Dingo on its tracks.

Whoa! A moment of excitement, when tree weight and crater's-edge slope combined to tip the Dingo on its tracks.

The Iwo Jima shot.  A team of volunteers ran in to right the tree.

The Iwo Jima shot. A team of volunteers ran in to right the tree.

Holding the tree upright once the Dingo forks have been pulled out.

Holding the tree upright once the Dingo forks have been pulled out.

Again, holding the tree upright.  The pigtails now get cut open and roots spread out radially from the trunk.

Again, holding the tree upright. The pigtails now get cut open and roots spread out radially from the trunk.

Freeing the roots, beginning to dig in backfill, and watering to make a soil slurry that will eliminate air pockets and help anchor the spread-out root plate.

Freeing the roots, beginning to dig in backfill, and watering to make a soil slurry that will eliminate air pockets and help anchor the spread-out root plate.

With the tree in its new location, burlap padding the trunk may be removed.

With the tree in its new location, burlap padding the trunk may be removed.

Digging in the root mass.  It's important to pack the soil directly under the tree's trunk, to eliminate air holes and ensure against settling of the tree lower in its hole over time.

Digging in the root mass. It's important to pack the soil directly under the tree's trunk, to eliminate air holes and ensure against settling of the tree lower in its hole over time.

Big canopy on this tree, with a root mass to match.

Big canopy on this tree, with a root mass to match.

A bucket on the Dingo shakes backfill -- the native soil onsite in this case -- into the crater as workers wield shovels and a hose.

A bucket on the Dingo shakes backfill -- the native soil onsite in this case -- into the crater as workers wield shovels and a hose.

Trunk flare, placed in the proper relationship to finish grade.  Note the cut root ends; clean cuts with sharp tools let the wounds heal quickly.

Trunk flare, placed in the proper relationship to finish grade. Note the cut root ends; clean cuts with sharp tools let the wounds heal quickly.

More backfill, more water, and someone still holds the tagline for safety.  The Dingo never drives over the root mass, but drops soil onto it from outside.

More backfill, more water, and someone still holds the tagline for safety. The Dingo never drives over the root mass, but drops soil onto it from outside the planting hole.

Still more water, as the backfilling continues.

Still more water, as the backfilling continues.

Building the well wall, as water continues to flow.

Building the well wall, as water continues to flow.

Six-inch caliper elm tree in its new location.  Some wilt is evident -- likely because the tree was excavated the day before and the roots had been exposed through the course of the several-hours long workshop.

Six-inch caliper elm tree in its new location. Some wilt is evident -- likely because the tree was excavated the day before and the roots had been exposed through the course of the several-hours long workshop. The tagline finally lies slack. Two to four inches of mulch will next be added, and kept away from the trunk.

Demonstrating arborist at this station:

Mike Furgal, Furgal’s Tree and Landscape, Northborough, MA

Air spade tree transplanting

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Dave Leonard from Lexington, KY, manned the root forensics station at the September 10 MAA air-tool workshop at Elm Bank.  He used an Air Knife to excavate the root ball of a 4″ caliper red maple that was showing signs of decline.

Turf provided the only competition for this tree, but it was showing dieback and early fall color at the MAA workshop.

Turf provided the only competition for this tree, but it was showing dieback and early fall color at the MAA workshop. Dave Leonard excavated at its base to take a look at its rooting habit for possible problems.

With soil blown away from the original root ball, it was clear that the tree’s planting had initiated some problems — parts of the wire basket appeared at the edges of the root ball, and cut root ends had sent out an explosion of fibrous roots that turned back toward the trunk.

Root ends cut during the tree's digging in the nursery sent out masses of fibrous roots, quite a few of which turned back toward the trunk.  The interface between root ball soil and surrounding soil can inhibit root growth into the surrounding soil; removing burlap, removing the wire basket, and breaking up the root ball soil, particularly at the ball's perimeter, can help promote the spread of new roots.

Root ends cut during the tree's digging in the nursery sent out masses of fibrous roots, quite a few of which turned back toward the trunk. The interface between root ball soil and surrounding soil can inhibit root growth into the surrounding soil; removing burlap, removing the wire basket, and breaking up the root ball soil, particularly at the ball's perimeter, can help promote the spread of new roots. Note the soil line some inches up the trunk flare; removing soil above the trunk flare will also benefit the tree and lessen its stress.

Dave cut away the roots that he could not redirect outward, and trimmed off the roots that had begun to circle the trunk flare’s base, which would otherwise eventually girdle the trunk and major anchor roots.  Some of these roots were the beginnings of a secondary root system put out by the tree in response to its stress.

Removing the worst of the inward-growing and circling roots improves the tree's chances for survival.

Removing the worst of the inward-growing and circling roots improves the tree's chances for survival.

After excavating the root ball, Dave intended to continue to blow soil out away from the root ball, creating a shallow crater  out at least to the tree’s dripline.  Removing turf from that zone would eliminate plant competition for soil moisture; the addition of 2-4″ of mulch (kept away from the trunk) would help the soil retain moisture and an even temperature, add organics to it over time, and lessen the chance of soil compaction that inhibits soil/air gas exchange.

Dave said that he would also consider lifting the tree a few inches, to bring its trunk flare into a better relationship with surrounding grade.  This tree had been in the ground for a couple of years; Dave suggested that tree lifting might be worth doing within two to four years of planting, but could be detrimental to the tree after that.  (The window of opportunity for lifting a tree would be a lot wider if an air tool were used, rather than a Bobcat or excavator, as the tree could be bare-rooted and set back in place with relatively little stress from the process.)

Demonstrating arborist at this station:

Dave Leonard, Dave Leonard Consulting Arborist, Inc., Lexington, KY

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Yesterday the Massachusetts Arborists Association held a day-long workshop at Elm Bank, headquarters for the Massachusetts Horticulture Society in Wellesley, MA.  Three arborists — Dave Leonard from Kentucky, Rolf Briggs of Holliston, MA, and Matt Foti of Lexington, MA — spoke about particular  root issues; Mike Furgal, from Northborough, MA, discussed the use of air tools in bare-root tree transplanting.  After hearing the talks, the hundred or so attendees split into groups and visited five stations on the Elm Bank grounds where the featured speakers were giving demonstrations on their topics.

It was a fine workshop, and I’ll be posting quite a few photos from it in the next few days.  Today, though, I’m only posting this photo:

Sugar maple whose root flare was excavated several years ago at a Bartlett Tree workshop given to demonstrate the new and revolutionary use of air tools in tree work.

Sugar maple whose trunk flare was excavated several years ago at a Bartlett Tree workshop given to demonstrate the new and revolutionary use of air tools in tree work.

Several years ago, I went with a friend to this Bartlett Tree workshop at Elm Bank, and we were among a smallish group who watched as an arborist blew several inches of soil away from the trunk flare of this Sugar Maple.  As I recall, the tree had been planted a bit deep, it was set in a fairly compacted lawn, and it was not looking as well as it might; at the time (this was perhaps seven or eight, or perhaps even ten years ago) it had about a six-inch caliper trunk and was not thriving.

Now, however, the tree looks really good.  It may have a little too much mulch around its base — built up since its excavation — but its foliage is deep green, its bark is intact (trunk injuries sometimes show up as a result of some kind of root trauma or injury), and it certainly has grown.  A mulch bed surrounds it and keeps lawnmowers away as it minimizes compaction.  If this kind of growth results from attending to root issues early on and from maintaining a tree properly, the arborists from this workshop may prove, down the road, to be responsible for promoting what truly may be the best arboricultural practices around.

Workshop speakers:

Dave Leonard, Dave Leonard Consulting Arborist, Inc., Lexington, KY

Rolf Briggs, Tree Specialists, Inc., Holliston, MA

Mike Furgal, Furgal’s Tree and Landscape, Northborough, MA

Matt Foti, Matthew R. Foti Landscape and Tree Service, Inc., Lexington, MA

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Here’s a quick post to alert readers to the Massachusetts Arborists Association‘s Special Seminar and Demonstration on air tool use. A team of four arborists — Mike Furgal, Matt Foti, Rolf Briggs, and Dave Leonard — will be showing how compressed-air tools can be used in arboricultural work (root forensics, bare-root planting, bare-root transplanting, shrub moving, etc.), and will discuss the advancements that this technology provide those working with or using woody plants in the landscape.

The seminar will be on September 10 at Elm Bank, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s property in Wellesley, MA — check the MAA link above for registration information.

Registration is not limited to arborists, so interested landscape architects and contractors can go and see this work. I highly recommend signing up; last year’s seminar at Matt Foti’s farm, where Mike Furgal debuted the air-tool transplanting method, was really outstanding, and this year there’s bound to be even more information available and a great deal of informed and informative discussion.

One point: Bare-root transplanting, either with an air-tool or by root-washing, may never replace other methods of transplanting. But for specimen tree transplanting, where the value of an existing tree merits the effort involved, it is currently the gold standard. The number of roots retained with bare-root transplanting prevents the tremendous stress caused by other methods, and should be considered a valuable tool in the kit available to landscape architects, arborists, and contractors.

Bare-rooting allows for the moving of a tree this large in less than one day...

Bare-rooting allows for the moving of a tree this large in less than one day...

...while preserving this much root mass.

...while preserving this much root mass.

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Matt Foti took these photos from last week’s big transplant project, and they illustrate some useful points.

Air-tool excavation is a very messy process, and it bears mentioning again that eye, ear, head, and face protection are really necessary.  Mike Furgal is wearing a face mask here; a respirator would give him even greater lung protection.  Blowing a good sandy loam is one thing; when pebbles and small rocks show up in the soil they become missiles, so long sleeves and pants should also be worn.

Air-tool excavation is a very messy process, and it bears mentioning again that eye, ear, head, and face protection are really necessary. Mike Furgal is wearing a face mask here; a respirator would give him even greater lung protection. Blowing a good sandy loam is one thing; when pebbles and small rocks show up in the soil they become missiles, so long sleeves and pants should also be worn.

Here is what a well-tied tree looks like in transit.  Note how the roots have been carefully pigtailed, and tiebacks to the tree's trunk are done neatly and professionally, to preserve the roots during excavation and the move.

Here is what a well-tied tree looks like in transit. Note how the roots have been carefully pigtailed, and tiebacks to the tree's trunk are done neatly and professionally, to preserve the roots during excavation and the move.

This project took place in late July, during a week of 85-degree heat.  Leaf turgor pressure was maintained throughout by the trees themselves (aided with some in-process watering).

This project took place in late July, during a week of 85-degree heat. Leaf turgor pressure was maintained throughout by the trees themselves (aided with some in-process watering).

Keeping the pigtails neat from the start makes unbundling and spreading the roots fairly easy.  The tree is now resting in the crater dug for its new home; the crew will unbundle and spread the roots out radially, pack soil underneath them to help level the tree, and backfill, water, and mulch the transplant.  Using a forklift allows the arborists to look under the root plate and gauge its bottom profile, which helps in shaping the floor of the planting crater.

Keeping the pigtails neat from the start makes unbundling and spreading the roots fairly easy. The tree is now resting in the crater dug for its new home; the crew will unbundle and spread the roots out radially, pack soil underneath them to help level the tree, and backfill, water, and mulch the transplant. Using a forklift allows the arborists to look under the root plate and gauge its bottom profile, which helps in shaping the floor of the planting crater.

Project arborists:

Matthew R. Foti Landscape and Tree Service, Concord, MA

Furgal’s Tree and Landscape, Northborough, MA

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For those of you checking out this blog for the air-tool transplanting posts, you may find it helpful to read the comments on those posts for more information…And if you’re a landscape architect or arborist and have observations, questions, comments, please feel free to submit them in the comment box as well. This technology and its applications are so new that the more good information gets exchanged, the better.

Lots of root mass.  Irrigation lines run through it; they are cut during the trenching process, and then pulled out in feet-long lengths once enough soil has been blown away from the roots.

Lots of root mass. Irrigation lines run through it; they are cut during the trenching process, and then pulled out in feet-long lengths once enough soil has been blown away from the roots.

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Here’s a series of photos from an air-tool transplant project executed last week by a crew from Matthew R. Foti Landscape and Tree Service of Lexington, MA. These guys have been using air tools to bare-root trees for some time now, and they have refined the process pretty skillfully.

Shown here are a very large treeform Taxus and a smallish Cornus kousa. The Kousa Dogwood had been planted only about 8′ away from the Yew, and probably had been sheltered by it in its early days. At this stage, though, their crowns had been competing, and a revised landscape design gave further reason to spade out and move both plants.

Taxus and Cornus kousa planted closely together, as part of a larger planting that has already been dismantled.

Taxus and Cornus kousa planted closely together, as part of a larger planting that has already been dismantled.

The Bobcat has dug a trench, and the crew is blowing soil into it. Note that the Yew's branches have been tied up to keep them out of the way.

The Bobcat has dug a trench, and the crew is blowing soil into it. Note that the Yew's branches have been tied up to keep them out of the way.

Taxus is a deeply rooted plant -- notice the trench depth, and presence of roots in the lower part of the mound.

Taxus is a deeply rooted plant -- notice the trench depth, and presence of roots in the lower part of the mound.

Soil and rocks fly during the process, so eye and ear protection are essential. The white jumpsuits keep these guys from getting covered with soil (color is optional).

Soil and rocks fly during the process, so eye and ear protection are essential. The white jumpsuits keep these guys from getting covered with soil (color is optional).

Bobcat continually takes blown soil out of the trench and stockpiles it.

Bobcat continually takes blown soil out of the trench and stockpiles it.

Double-teaming a soil clod. Pushing the nozzle down into the root mass helps loosen soil inside it.

Double-teaming a soil clod. Pushing the nozzle down into the root mass helps loosen soil inside it.

Pigtailing the roots -- tying them in long bundles -- helps keep them protected and out of the way.

Pigtailing the roots -- tying them in long bundles -- helps keep them protected and out of the way.

Twine holds the pigtails together; when the plant is ready to move, twine can also be used to tie the pigtails back to the trunk, to keep them from dragging during transport.

Twine holds the pigtails together; when the plant is ready to move, twine can also be used to tie the pigtails back to the trunk, to keep them from dragging during transport.

Progress shot. Look at how deep the trench is. The Taxus is nearly ready, and shortly the crew will move on to the Cornus kousa; when both trees have been blown out, they will be separated and moved to new locations.

Progress shot. Look at how deep the trench is. The Taxus is nearly ready, and shortly the crew will move on to the Cornus kousa; when both trees have been blown out, they will be separated and moved to new locations.

The following week: Taxus in a new spot, looking relaxed and healthy

The following week: Taxus in a new spot, looking relaxed and healthy

Final shot. Asymmetry in the Taxus crown reflects its previous location in a larger planting.

Final shot. Asymmetry in the Taxus crown reflects its previous location in a larger planting.

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No, that’s not a shot of a revolutionary way of planting in pavement — that’s a photo of one of the enormous China Girl hollies being taken to its new home at the property belonging to L. and A., my longtime clients. This holly is a mature plant; in my Air Spade In Action post (May 16), you can see it set on the ground, opened to its full, voluptuous 9′ width.

You’ll also notice that shrubs flanking the steps and walk here are mostly mature plants. L. and A. have spent years developing their landscape, and it has the flavor of a place owned by art appreciators. The plants have been tended with care, diligence, and skill, and their character reinforces the design intentions evident throughout the gardens.

Landscape architects often heed Frederick Law Olmsted’s dictum, “Plant thick, thin quick” (a motto we learned in Lenny Mirin’s Landscape History class at Cornell — Lenny?), and plant shrubs more densely than the mature size of the plant might dictate. Clients often want to see immediately gratifying plantings, which means a minimal view of the mulch and a maximal view of plants.

Which is fine — as long as someone goes back in a few years later and actually does the thinning. The making of a landscape is not a one-off deal.

At the North Shore garden this past week, as we were in the midst of reworking two areas on the property, I had a revelation. My clients have been devoted to their gardens for years, and they enjoy and promote the evolution of their place. Their enthusiasm for their landscape has allowed me to make the refinements that continue to animate it.

Thinning out the plantings is one aspect of this work: dismantling the holly hedge gave us ten wonderful plants to use around the property, while allowing us to develop a planting in place of the hedge that uses a combination of new, younger plants and older transplants that have grown into their habits. Toby and I have discussed in earlier posts the idea of planting densely and allowing the plants themselves to elbow each other both into a coherent ensemble and into a set of individual character actors.

This week, I was able to take mature, idiosyncratic plants — in this case, rhododendrons, azaleas, and mountain laurel — and transplant them in an area where each plant’s form would be visible. This sort of refinement is possible when a landscape has been designed, planted, and growing for years; it is the stage at which the character of plants can truly be showcased.

Not every landscape reaches this stage, which requires something of the eye of an editor and a knowledge of horticulture in addition to the skills of a designer. A property may be sold, a client may find other priorities, or may simply feel overwhelmed by the “planted thick” place. Rather than thin it out or make new spaces in the landscape, that client or new owner may ask for an entirely new planting.

Refining a landscape by reimagining its plantings, though, and in some cases developing new spaces to fit a changed use of the property, can breathe new and vigorous life into a place. Mature plants, well-situated, give a well-structured place the look of inevitability that is difficult to achieve with the callow youth of new nursery-grown stock.

Some of my favorite work has involved shaping spaces with mature plants reused from the same site. I tend to see character in plants, and really like gussying them up to highlight that character. Putting together a collection of plants in this way is like developing the singing skills of a choir; individually, each singer’s voice is distinctive, and together, all the voices blend to create shifting and satisfying harmonies.

This kind of design starts with a plan, but requires an agile mind onsite, as the plants move from one situation to another, and relationships among their forms change. It’s challenging to see a plant from all sides, envision how it will work in harmony with the others to join it, be sure it works horticulturally, and assemble the collection to best effect.

There is no way to plan precisely that kind of work in advance; the joy of it comes when shifts, tweaks, and adjustments bring about a result that fits just right, and that pleases. This week, I got to spend three days of orchestrating this kind of work, and every minute was a pleasure. Here are before and after photos of one planting area we changed:

p1010537Same area, newly revised. The existing trees remain, and we’ve added another little Bloodgood. The great wall of China Girls is gone, we moved two of them back in front of the Norway maple to grow more loosely together as a backdrop to two mature azaleas. Older rhododendrons and mountain laurel show their forms to the left of the new Bloodgood. New Green Wave yews will grow together and in a few years will make a continuous loose line with the existing Green Waves.

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