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Archive for the ‘Massachusetts Arborists Association’ Category

At the MAA Elm Bank workshop on September 10, 2009, Matt Foti demonstrated how to address root problems at the time of planting.  He had a fairly large collection of trunk-and-root masses to illustrate his points, and used them to show how girdling roots, secondary root systems, and J-rooted systems can develop as a result of poor planting or growing practices.

Matt first showed a couple of forest saplings he had pulled early in the day to illustrate how a naturally-seeded tree’s roots grow.  The sapling’s roots were evenly spaced around its stem, and extended out a distance relatively equivalent to the distance its topgrowth extended from the stem.

This little forest-grown white pine has a clean, evenly spaced root system.

This little forest-grown white pine has a clean, evenly spaced root system.

He then pointed to a couple of nursery-grown trees whose rooting problems had become evident after several years.

These root systems have been cut in the digging process.  In an attempt to regrow roots, the foreground tree has sent out a secondary root system, several of which are beginning to girdle other roots.  Kept too long in a burlapped ball or in a container, roots will often turn back in to the ball, making effective planting and long-term growth problematic.

These root systems have been cut in the digging process. In an attempt to regrow roots, the foreground tree has sent out a secondary root system, several of which are beginning to girdle other roots. Kept too long in a burlapped ball or in a container, roots will often turn back in to the ball, making effective planting and long-term growth problematic.

Shrubs as well as trees are susceptible to root problems; Matt dismantled an Ilex verticillata root mass to illustrate how he treats roots bound in a container or in burlap before planting.

Fibrous roots hold together in a near solid mass right out of the container.

Fibrous roots hold together in a near solid mass right out of the container.

Using a three-pronged fork to untangle the root mass.  For a bigger shrub or small tree, a machete or pitchfork may work well to loosen soil and reorient roots.

Using a three-pronged fork to untangle the root mass. For a bigger shrub or small tree, a machete or pitchfork may work well to loosen soil and reorient roots.

Ilex verticillata root mass, now ready for planting.

Ilex verticillata root mass, now ready for planting.

Soil can present another problem for nursery-dug B&B trees.  Clay soils make sturdy root balls, which can be useful for shipping, but not so great for root growth.

This pair of trees have root masses encased in rock-hard clay soils.  Note the solid clumps of clay in the foreground, and root growth only on top of the root ball -- these roots found it impossible to grow into and through this soil.  Breaking up the soil in a root ball like this before planting promotes the tree's future health; leaving this kind of root ball intact almost guarantees tree stress and decline.

This pair of trees have root masses encased in rock-hard clay soils. Note the solid clumps of clay in the foreground, and root growth only on top of the root ball -- these roots found it impossible to grow into and through this soil. Breaking up the soil in a root ball like this before planting promotes the tree's future health; leaving this kind of root ball intact almost guarantees tree stress and decline.

Closeup of rock-hard clay root ball, broken apart (fairly violently) for demonstration purposes.

Closeup of rock-hard clay root ball, broken apart (fairly violently) for demonstration purposes.

Another example of a dense clay root ball that constricted root growth to the tree's great detriment.  Soil had also been piled up around this tree's trunk flare, further challenging its ability to live.  Tough conditions for a tree to grow in.

Another example of a dense clay root ball that constricted root growth to the tree's great detriment. Soil had also been piled up around this tree's trunk flare, further challenging its ability to live. Tough conditions for a tree to grow in...

The point of these illustrations was to show how necessary it is, when planting a tree or shrub, to work with the root ball before covering it with soil.  Removing wire baskets, removing burlap, loosening or removing the soil, untangling roots as best as possible, pruning roots when necessary — all these tactics make up a strategy for promoting real tree growth.  Bare-root techniques have shown that a great deal of the work that arborists do these days is remedial — that is, is work intended to remedy poor growing, digging, or planting practices.  With the knowledge arborists now have of how root issues so obviously affect plant health, it only makes sense to attend to those issues early on, to avoid greater problems later.

Demonstrating arborist at this station:

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

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Tree Specialists manned the decompaction station at the MAA workshop on September 10, 2009.  Standing between two mature sugar maple trees, Rolf Briggs used a compaction meter (from Forestry Suppliers, Inc.) to show how thoroughly compacted the soil around these trees was (very).

Again, the arborists set up barriers to limit the area affected by blown-out soil and pebbles.  Rolf Briggs (right foreground) showed how to use a compaction meter, and explained that the green flags delineate the area to be decompacted.  Flagging the area for review by the client makes the limit of work clear to all parties.

Again, the arborists set up barriers to limit the area affected by blown-out soil and pebbles. Rolf Briggs (right foreground) showed how to use a compaction meter, and explained that the green flags delineate the area to be decompacted. Flagging the area for review by the client makes the limit of work clear to all parties.

Compaction limits the movement of moisture and of gases (oxygen included) in soils, and so can create significant problems for trees.  Trees rely on water being available to their roots, and on the ready intake of oxygen (from the air and from water molecules) for carbon dioxide discharged by those roots.  Compacted soils tend not to allow oxygen in in sufficient quantities, nor allow the steady release of carbon dioxide that a tree needs.  Breaking up the compaction, adding organic amendments to improve soil structure, and replacing lawn areas around trees with mulch beds are steps that benefit soil health, and as a result, tree health.

Decompacting soil around two sugar maple trees.  One man operates the air tool, blowing vertical trenches and mixing their backfill with a proprietary organic soil amendment that mimics forest duff.  The other operator mans the air hose, and tugs on it to signal to the operator.  Air tools are loud!.  Green flags indicate limits of the decompaction zone.

Decompacting soil around two sugar maple trees. One man operates the air tool, blowing vertical trenches and mixing their backfill with a proprietary organic soil amendment that mimics forest duff. The other operator mans the air hose, and tugs on it to signal to the operator. Air tools are loud!. Green flags indicate limits of the decompaction zone.

Tree Specialists prewaters the work area 24-48 hours before starting on a decompaction project, to hydrate the roots and help keep dust down.  As they proceed with the process, they begin to ‘fold in’ amendments.

For further information on decompaction, Briggs recommended an article in the current issue (September 2009) of Tree Care Industry Magazine on soil decompaction and amendment.

Demonstrating arborists at this station:

Tree Specialists, Inc.,  Holliston, MA

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The Massachusetts Arborists Association workshop on September 10, 2009, took place on a sunny, cool day at the Mass. Hort. Society’s headquarters at Elm Bank in Wellesley, MA.

Quite a few arborists and other landscape professionals attended the workshop, which began with slide talks and then moved outside to field demonstrations.

Quite a few arborists and other landscape professionals attended the workshop, which began with slide talks and then moved outside to field demonstrations.

This workshop focused on root issues, with demonstrations of what some of those issues are — conflicts with utility lines, the effects of poor growing and planting practices, decline due to compacted and poor soils, and inappropriate tree locations — and how they may be remedied.

Rolf Briggs and Tree Specialists set up shop at a couple of different stations to show how they use air tools both to decompact soils and to excavate utility trenches near trees.  The demonstrating arborists first discussed protective equipment, and showed what  they use when they employ air tools:  We watched as they put on respirators, helmets with face masks, ear protection, gloves, and either foul weather gear or jumpsuits — all necessary to protect from the great quantities of dust, soil, and stones blowing into the air.

To protect the surrounding area from flying detritus, Mike Hickman of Tree Specialists set up plywood or screen barriers around his work zone.  I’ve seen plain plywood sheets used; the Tree Specialist guys have figured out that hinging several sheets together makes for a sturdier barrier, a good thing if you’re using air tools with any regularity in anything but a wide-open landscape.

Hinged plywood panels keep the dust contained to the area around a trench.

Hinged plywood panels keep the dust contained to the area around a trench.

When it's necessary to dig a trench near a tree, air tools can do the job while preserving the tree's roots.  You can see roots crossing this trench, but plenty of space beneath them for a new conduit or line.  This trench was blown out with an air spade, and rocks and excess loose material after the blowing-out removed by hand.

When it's necessary to dig a trench near a tree, air tools can do the job while preserving the tree's roots. You can see roots crossing this trench, but plenty of space beneath them for a new conduit or line. This trench was blown out with an air spade, and rocks and excess loose material after the blowing-out removed by hand.

The power of compressed air will break up soil move it out of the way; it can also damage roots to some extent, by blowing root bark or feeder roots entirely away.  When using an air tool, experienced operators keep the nozzle moving to limit this kind of damage, and whenever possible (definitely not always possible in trenching work), they direct the air flow parallel to the direction of major root growth, away from the base of the tree.

Note the plywood barrier inside the trench as well, to focus the air blast and prevent soil from blowing into a previously blown-out section.

Note the plywood barrier inside the trench as well, to focus the air blast and prevent soil from blowing into a previously blown-out section.

Blowing out the trench.  This air tool is a new product that uses an auxiliary stream of water to help keep the roots hydrated and the dust down.  Tree Specialists is assessing this new feature.

Blowing out the trench. This air tool is a new product that uses an auxiliary stream of water to help keep the roots hydrated and the dust down. Tree Specialists is assessing this new feature.

After blowing out a utility trench, Tree Specialists simply returns the native soil to the excavated area.  They may add some amendments such as lime or humates, if they have already had soil tests done that indicate the need for such amendments.  And to mulch the area once excavation and backfilling are complete, they have developed a proprietary mix of chipped and composted wood fibers (mainly from tree parts 3″ and less in diameter), twigs, and leaves.  They use this same mix in their soil decompaction process, and note benefits to the trees from its use.

Mike Hickman pointed out that air tools break down soil aggregates and so obliterate soil structure in the area blown out.  This breakdown can be considered a disadvantage of using compressed air for excavation; in Mike’s words, “Destruction of some of the soil aggregates I see as a “con,” but proper horticultural practices such as mulching and site specific amendments effectively mitigate these cons.”

Demonstrating arborist at this station:

Mike Hickman, Tree Specialists, Inc., Holliston, MA

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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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