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Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Last year I worked on a large mall planting project.  A number of trees had to be pulled out to make way for a new parking layout; the islands they had been growing in were removed and paved over, with new islands located in a different configuration.  Most of the trees were hauled away by the landscape contractor, but one ended up in a discard pile next to the mountain of loam that had been excavated for reuse.

I was interested in the root configuration on this six-inch caliper red maple.  A mass of fibrous roots wrapped closely around the tree’s trunk, much like cotton-candy filaments spun around a paper cone.  Looking at it more closely, I found that the fibrous roots grew out of thicker woody roots, some of which had been cut during the tree’s original ball-and-burlapping, and some of which, growing since that operation, were circling the trunk.  Take a look:

Fibrous roots circling the six-inch red maple trunk.

Pulled away from the trunk, the roots clearly are circling it. Over time, as the tree grew in girth, these roots likely would have constricted the flow of nutrients between root mass and crown

This sort of circling root is usually seen when the soil mass in a B&B root ball is of different porosity from the soil surrounding it; moisture will not move from one soil mass to the other until one mass is completely saturated.  Because roots tend to grow where moisture and oxygen are available, they will often stay within the root ball, and circle around the trunk as they grow.  The problem is made worse when burlap is not pulled away from the ball, as the burlap constitutes yet another interface for the moisture to move through.

Here's the tree's underside. Note the girdling root snaking on top of the big torn root facing the camera, and the curiously self-contained look of this root mass. The tree's problems likely began early in its life.

Not every B&B tree has these problems, and in those that do, not every rooting problem can be remedied at planting time.  Judicious treatment — looking for circling roots that can become girdling roots, cutting back girdling roots and cutting or redirecting circling roots, roughing up the sides of the root ball, removing or cutting down wire baskets, pulling down or removing burlap — can go a long way in helping B&B trees establish better in the landscape, and in remedying problems that threaten a tree’s long-term health and viability.  For more discussion on root issues affecting B&B trees, check out this post on Matt Foti’s station at the MAA’s Elm Bank bare-root workshop in September 2009.

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Yesterday I drove through Yarmouth, Maine, and stopped by the site where Herbie the New England Champion American Elm (Ulmus americana) had lived for over two hundred years before meeting his end this past January (see this post for the story).  I wanted to see Herbie’s stump and get a better idea of what 217 years of tree age looked like in plan view.

It was hard to get a clear measure of the stump.  It was cleanly cut across the root flare, and there were no signs of internal decay at the cut line, which indicates that no root damage — or none of the kind that travels up the trunk and compromises it —  had affected the tree in its life.

This tree was big.  A slice from the bottom of the butt, mounted on table-height legs, would be big enough to seat at least a dozen people quite comfortably, if a bit irregularly.  The following photos show my attempts at comparative scale.

From a distance, the spot where Herbie stood looks like a small paved dais in a big open space.

A pair of Felcos and a water bottle for scale, and still it's hard to fathom the stump's size.

Hmm. This yellow nursery caliper gauge, maxed out at 4 1/4", doesn't come close to an appropriate scale. The school bus in the background ran past before I could catch its image right in front of the stump, but it begins to suggest a comparison.

This angle doesn't help much either, though it certainly illustrates how Herbie dealt with grade change -- he just grew over it.

People walking by help with scale.

Eureka! The handy measuring tape, laid across the stump's widest part, gives at least some numeric sense of size.

Here's a crop from that last photo, showing the stump measuring at its widest point 9'-2". Herbie had plenty of root room, among other advantages, so he could grow to this size.

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This set of images popped up on my Google Reader today, and I just have to share them.  Click on the highlighted link to Vulgare, a blog on landscape issues, and take a look at the remarkable Chapel Oak in France.

Then take a look at Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Optimist,, to see images of other tree-chapels.

Finally, here’s a more rustic, but still graceful example:

Flickr image by dagochan*55

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I was in Maine last week, and planned to stop in Yarmouth on Monday to watch the removal of Herbie, the champion American Elm (Ulmus americana) that had finally become too compromised to stay standing.

For several months,  stories about Herbie and his long-time steward, Yarmouth tree warden Frank Knight (at 101 years old, he is now retired) had been appearing in the news — Knight had cared for Herbie for over 50 years, and had treated the elm in repeated battles with Dutch Elm Disease.  He had succeeded for decades, but in recent years the disease and old age had been catching up, infecting whole limbs and making it necessary to remove large chunks of the tree’s crown.  Last summer, the town’s current tree warden, Debra Hopkins, determined that Herbie should come down, and Knight concurred.   The date of removal was set for January 18.

There were reports that arborists and Herbie-fans from around New England would show up to watch the proceedings.  As I would be driving past Yarmouth that day, I decided to join them.  Work was slated to begin at 7:30 a.m.

Fortunately or not, a heavy snowstorm started on Sunday night, and when I awoke at 5 on Monday morning several inches had already fallen, with no end in sight.   A couple of tasks delayed my departure by several hours, and as it seemed unlikely that the work would proceed that day anyway, I didn’t arrive in Yarmouth until about 2:30 p.m.  Herbie still stood.  As I drove up, several people were snapping photos of the tree; more showed up when they left, and still more arrived as I was leaving.  Lots of people wanted to get a last look at this giant.

Herbie the American Elm, on the day scheduled for his removal.

Herbie was massive — in his prime, he stood 110′ tall, with a crown spread of 120′ and a girth of 20′.  Disease and age had diminished him, and it was clear that this was a tree under serious stress, but it was impossible to stand next to or near him without feeling awe.

To get a sense of the tree's scale, note the people standing to the left of Herbie.

Someone had tied a red, white, and blue ribbon around the tree, and people had attached cards and well wishes and information on this champion to it.

The placard in the middle is an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper, with facts on Herbie's size and life.

The tree had quite a lot of evidently viable growth in the canopy, but the canopy itself had been hugely compromised, with several very large limbs removed.  I remember hearing Alex Shigo talk about how and when to make the decision to remove a tree; he spoke eloquently about the native dignity of trees, and about how at some point the act of removal shows more respect for the tree than leaving it in place.

There comes a point in a tree's life where removal of this much of its crown is a removal of dignity, as well. Though the tree's trunk appeared to be sound, and the limb removals had eliminated hazard wood, Herbie's time had come.

For about 15 minutes, I ran around in the cold photographing Herbie from different angles.  As I did, I saw carloads of people arrive, jump out, snap photos of themselves with the tree, put a hand out to feel its bark, and then gaze up at it reverently before they left.  And then I went over, put my hand on the craggy, lichen-speckled bark, and also said a silent goodbye.

Herbie in his heyday. This was a classic American elm.

Herbie was taken down the following day, with Frank Knight in attendance.  To see removal photos and videos, as well as how the wood from this elm will be used, click on this link.

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The Massachusetts Arborists Association has a new volunteer initiative starting in 2010.  They aim to build on the traditional Arbor Day celebration by instituting a statewide volunteer service day on that day, which falls on April 30, 2010.

To get the ball rolling, the MAA is inviting anyone to identify potential tree care projects in their own communities, and then to post those project ideas on the Arbor Day link at www.MassArbor.org.  They hope to get ideas from all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns by January 15.  From that list, MAA members and member companies will choose projects for their own Arbor Day of Service volunteer effort.

This is a great way for professional arborists to make a contribution to the civic good, and for cities and towns to reap the benefits of a concerted professional effort.  Safety pruning, tree planting, hazard tree removal, ornamental pruning — a community you drive through daily may have the project that’s perfect for your company to tackle on Arbor Day.  To submit a project for Arbor Day of Service consideration by the MAA arborists, visit http://www.MassArbor.org by January 15, and click on Arbor Day.

Help younger generations grow up with the Arbor Day of Service.

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Hartney Greymont of Needham, MA has the most effective reminder this year to schedule winter moth treatments.  In November they sent out color postcards showing a single winter moth, about 6 times life-sized.  On the back the cards explain that the brown moths visible in November are parents of the caterpillars that will feed on trees in spring.

Hartney has hit upon a great way to connect a very visible autumn phenomenon with a very visible spring phenomenon, wrapping up a bit of client education with a pitch to schedule spring treatments early.  Nice.

Winter moth, taken from Flickr

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Say you’re a growing country club in a nicely-treed community, and you need to enlarge your parking lot. And perhaps you want to lower its grade. The lot has some mature oak trees in it, and they add a certain je ne sais quoi to the scene, so you decide to save the trees by keeping the grade as is around the base of their trunks. You retain the roots and soil with a mortared stone wall. Voila!

Good idea – but woops! The minimum standard for root preservation is to keep 10 inches of root mass diameter per caliper inch of tree. For these trees, that would spell at least 360-inch diameter root masses. Because the trees are so close together, their roots overlap significantly — but still, 360 inches is thirty feet of diameter.

This 18-footish enclosure takes a tad too much root; the country club will almost certainly be watching these trees decline and die over the next few years (and they may well drop dead branches onto the parking lot, or cars in it, in the process).

The idea of saving a mature tree is a good one, as long as the tree’s actual requirements for continued healthy life are met.   Now that we have the tools to see how large a tree’s root mass really is, it’s much easier to see how big the unimpeded area around it has to be for the tree to survive happily and to thrive.

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